Imagine a highly advanced virtual reality machine capable of simulating any pleasurable experience you could ever want. Once connected to the machine, you would be completely unaware that you were inside a simulation, and you would experience a life filled with happiness and pleasure tailored to your desires. Would you choose to plug into this machine for the rest of your life?
Pleasure is the ultimate intrinsic good, it is what evolution has driven us to seek, so we should choose to plug into the Experience Machine. In a way people choose this existence when they shoot up with narcotics. However, many people would hesitate or refuse to plug into the machine, suggesting that there is something more to a valuable and meaningful life than just pleasure or happiness.
We want to do certain things, rather than just experience them. Plugging into the machine would mean giving up the opportunity to engage in real activities and achievements in the world.
We want to be a certain kind of person. In the Experience Machine, we would not know our true selves, and our character development would be based on a simulated reality.
We value a connection to reality. By plugging into the machine, we would be disconnected from the actual world and the genuine relationships and experiences that come with it.
In the world of the Icor Tales, every human, at the time of the ‘fall of the ancients’, was offered a choice to enter the experience engine and eliminate all their suffering, or they can accept that suffering is a worthy and meaningful part of life. Those who chose the later inhabited the twenty realms, whereas those who entered the experience machine live below in the Halls of the Ancients.
I battle the Beast today. Not the Beast upon the hill foretold in prophecy. Not the Beast beneath the bridge that Ma would pin us to our beds with. Today I battle myself upon the cinder rock the priest calls my soul. For here in the dark cellar of Madame Truss’s, where so many an impoverished imp has spent his seed for small coins, I battle two wills: the will to be a man and the gargantuan inevitable will of the Beast.
You cannot know this battle. For you, dearest reader, are not cursed as I. You cannot imagine this battle. You cannot blur the lines between what is you and what is so not you. Just as I, cannot peer from this page up to you and see your eyes pulling my words into your mind.
Are you not afraid as my mind is writ upon the pristine page, besmirching its bleached plane with black ooze that flows up through the ether into your thoughts? One drop of ink in a cup of water clouds and mars its virgin shine. My thoughts are the sewer that spews into your garden pond. My story, blackened and tanned, will meander past your nasal passages and lodge in your throat. Read on.
The small red stone before me glows and beckons. It is a prime. If I pick it up it will fulfill all my desires and make my worst fears real. It will torture me. It will lead to the death of all I love. But I will not die. Not today, nor tomorrow, or ever. I will bend the world to my will or break it. I will be like a crucible burning off the impurities of humanity, and remaking humanity in my image, under my holy heel.
Blink. The battle is over. The beast has won. I take the blighted icor chamber knowing it will own me more than I will own it.
Now I will tell you my secret and you too can be remade in my image. I will infect your soul to become as putrid as my own.Burn with me!
The rest of this transcript has been sealed by order of the Butcheart library.
The men with no shadow are introduced in the fourth installment of the Icor Tales, although they are hinted at in the third installment. Their history is shrouded in mystery. What is known is that they used to be ardent followers of Uther. They gave their lives to serve as men with no shadow.
They cannot be seen except by Uther, their victims, and those who carry prime keys. They have a weapon called a tec’sla (a word whose etymology derives from the language of the ancients) which is like an icor arrow. The tec’sla cannot be blocked by an icor shield, and creates a wound that icor cannot be heal.
“That title…” she scoffed. “I created it as a joke. It was tongue in cheek. It was self-ridicule… but it took on a life of its own.” She shrugged. “In a way, all titles and positions are ludicrous. Emperors, kings, queens, priests, and wizards. They are all pinpricks in the tapestry of humanity. Just look at King Laumas, he has not even eighteen winters. I have lived over fifteen hundred winters, and two dozen of those were nuclear winters.”
It took a moment for Sam to access his twenty-first century knowledge to understand what nuclear winter was. His mouth dropped open again.
“The only purpose of your title is to get you listened to by the high and mighty people of power, whose moment under the sun, believe me, is fleeting, fickle and fatuous. It gets you to the table where the plans are made.”
Uther was supposed to ship May 2022. I finished the first draft Dec 2021. Feedback was universally bad. It was too abstract, complex, and involved too painful deaths of beloved characters.
So I wrote it again, got covid, lost the thread and had to start yet again. These weren’t rewrites, but just abandoning the book and starting again from the original plot outline.
There still is a painful death of a beloved character. That character was always supposed to die when I had my original vision for the four books. I have simplified the plot by trimming the battles around Utopia. I think Utopia might deserve its own book, or at least its own short story.
I generally do 10-15 rewrites. I did 17 on this one. I will be sending the new version to editor and beta readers in the next two weeks.
I apologize to those who waited so patiently for the next installment in the Icor Tales. It is coming!
We meet Jark early in book 1 of the Icor Tales, but the big secret is that I wrote an unpublished book called Jark about fifteen years ago, so the character has been brewing.
Jark is inspired by Marvin the paranoid android in Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy. Also he has a little C3PO thrown in, especially in his light tone of speech. He also has a little of Star Trek’s Data. There is one scene that reveals he is capable of being a love bot (ala Futurama)
My philosophy, which is revealed in more detail in Book 3, is that, of course, Robots are conscious. Book 3, Dragons Awake, deals with John Searle’s Chinese Box and its inevitable conclusion that all existence is conscious.
It was many moons ago I read this series. I both loved and hated it. Jordan provided some great world building, and constructed a series of protagonists that I was happy to inhabit. The big bad antagonist was never described in detail. His powers, his desires, his arc were never clear, which made him both ominous and frustrating.
One of the problems with magic is that it is the ultimate Deus ex machina. No matter how bad the situation, the hero can suddenly delve a hidden depth and hey presto the good guy wins, and the bad guy loses. I’ve always hated this and as a result put very firm limits on the power of magic in the world of icor. For example, the readers are informed that the icor cannot kill monster X, or character Y, then that is going to be iron clad… another path to resolution must be found.
I heartily recommend the Amazon version of the Wheel of Time… I know I know, it has been panned by some, but I loved it… and the visuals of magic was just as I imagine the magic of icor, the way it seeped out of the rocks and the air… exactly as I wrote it in the Icor Tales. I hope they don’t cancel it. The things I love always seem to get cancelled. This is one reason I love writing a fantasy series … no one can cancel it but me… even if no one is reading it, I can still keep writing it. I will keep writing even if I am the only person reading what I write. I wrote my first book when I was 7yo… and it was hundreds of pages. I tore it up after it was panned. The first book I wrote and kept was called Jark, and one day I will rewrite it to make it publishable.
I had originally planned for a five book series… but I have fallen in love with these characters and just don’t want to let them go. The solution is a number of stand alone books set in the Icor Tales world and with the same characters.
I also have the outline for a book called the Fall of the Ancients, that describes the calamities that caused Violet to release icor into the world, and the resulting carnage.
Finally I have a Jark centered adventure planned.
After Uther, I will immediately write the final one of the five book series. This should be complete before the end of 2022. Then I will start on the stand alone books.
“You don’t know what it is like to have someone take your body against your will,” Mary said without taking her eyes away from the fire. “I am changed from what I was. I will never be …” she shook here head. “… I will never be who I was.”
“You were raped?” asked El looking at her carefully.
Mary did not answer straight away. She kept staring at the fire. She took two deep breaths and let them out raggedly as if the air escaped against her will. “No… well, not exactly. I was hungry, my mother was hungry and sick, and my younger siblings were all dependent on me… and a man offered me money… three gold pieces. It seemed like a fortune. How could I just let my mother die from hunger? I took the damn money. I put it in my purse and in one motion he pulled my dress up and off me. It was like a little magic trick. One moment I was a human and the next I was … what… I don’t know…something less than human. My instinct was to grab for my dress, but then I realized that he was now allowed … access to me. He could do what he wanted. I felt goosebumps over every inch of my body. I flinched against his every touch… which he noticed, and it seemed to excite him.”
El rested her hand on Mary’s shoulder. “You don’t have to talk about this. It is the past. That part of your life is gone.”
Mary put her hand on El’s. “Some stains can never be washed away.”
“You did what you had to.”
“For three years I made good money. The medicine and food I gave my mother allowed her to recover. My young brothers were able to be apprenticed. One day I came home to find the whole family and a priest waiting for me. They confronted me about my profession and declared me to be evil. They whipped my back to shreds, shaved my hair, and evicted me, and though I barely had eighteen winters I was declared vagrant and evicted from town.”
El did not speak. She soaked the dagger in the poison.
Mary kept her eyes on the fire. “I briefly tried to ply my trade to the incoming wagons on the south shivy road, but my torn clothes and scarred skin repulsed my prospective clients. I headed south with no plan but to find water and beg for food. My clothes were rags. I must have smelled like a corpse, and I was riddled with disease.”
“Then you met Sam.”
“Then I met Sam.”
Mary closed her eyes. “I had been alone for a year, getting weaker and sicker. I had found a small stream to drink from and was bathing the sores that had erupted on my wounds, when I heard him walk behind me. He offered me food. I offered him my body. He refused, then he raised his staff … which I thought was just a stick until I saw the orb at the top glow. I flinched from him, then felt warmth flood my body. All my pain just left me. My muscles were strong again. I stood up straight for the first time since my back had been flayed.”
El examined the poison drenched dagger, sheathed it and handed it to Mary.
Mary took it. “The woman that was him, gave me her cloak. They gave me three gold coins, apologized that they had an urgent matter to attend to and they left. It was an unforgiveable act of kindness… unforgiveable.”
El nodded. “I understand.” She stood and walked to the window. “Sam and the princess will be leaving the pauper’s hospital in about thirty minutes. He will recognize you and allow you to hug him. That will get you within his icor shield.”
Mary examined the dagger and snarled. “He will not survive the day. I swear it.”
[Big spoiler alert if you haven’t read book 1 of The Icor Tales]
“They Came by Night” introduces readers to Violet, the creator of the singularity and Icor (Intelligent Cloud of Robots). She is an odd character, and has morphed from my original conception of her.
She’s obviously very smart, and in ancient times she was in high tech, specializing in artificial intelligence, but I would not say she is a genius. Her invention of the singularity was almost an accident.
When the reader encounters her she is over fifteen hundred years old, keeping her body at an age that feels the most comfortable to her. She never shows any interest in men or women so her sexuality is undeclared as yet. She has witnessed society revert to a medieval style culture with a reasserted patriarchy. There was probably a time when she fought against the building of a male dominated society but she appears to have shrugged it off and given up the fight.
For fifteen hundred years she fought to make the world a utopia, but the innate character of mankind rebelled against paradise. I imagine that she fought thousands of battles trying to create a stable world where people could live in peace and finally she arrived at the conclusion that the struggle was futile and that violence just begets violence. She has given up, retired and living the simple life, gardening and farming.
In order to retire she decided she needed to hand over her power to someone smarter, stronger and with more willpower than herself. So she made a son…. or more accurately she ordered the icor to make one for her. The icor generated the seed, the DNA, and she carried it to term. She loved and spoiled her son, Bestich. At an early age Bestich realized that he was going to be given god-like powers, and this may have encouraged the growth of his ego. He was smart, the icor was programmed to obey him and he wanted all the power he could get. There is an unwritten story I have in mind where as a young teen he is rejected by a girl, and tries to use the icor to over power her free will and that would be the moment that set him on his dark path.
Violet disguises herself as a man, with the aid of icor, and some props. The Golden Wizard, is a character she has created that the man’s world she lives in will take seriously. The book seller, is her character that can educate the next generation of leaders.
1500 years after the fall of the ancients with their science a medieval style civilization has arisen amid a new power made possible by the last invention of science… magic. Swept away into a world at war, Sam finds himself wounded and rescued by an odd looking metallic creature who rebuilds Sam’s body.
The great barrier has fallen, and now Bestich is ready to deliver his death blow to the tribes of man aided by his large armies, crimson wizards, one hundred dragons and the miles long. Magic itself has turned on mankind. See on amazon – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0999S821M
Uther: Book 4 of the Icor Tales
Coming in 2022
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I was advised to delete this first chapter from They Came by Night, because it was too bloody and might be off putting to some readers.
Aravand, Northman Warrior
Zenfield Border Territory
Aravand watched the mile long caravan winding its way through the narrow mountain canyon trail. He closed his eyes to mute the screams he always heard in his mind before a slaughter. Today I will create more nightmares for myself, he thought. How many young men must I strike down? How many mothers will look up to the Goddess and curse me for what I do today?
The enemy had celebrated late into the previous night and as a result had languished in the morning before beginning the final trek to the safety of the mighty fort, they called Uther’s Bane. They will never reach the warm embrace of Uther, thought Aravand. I will free their slaves, I will rob them of their loot, I will find the slaver they call captain and … Aravand’s thoughts were interrupted by the sight of the slaver himself, clad in plate armor, riding a tall grey horse. It is as if my thoughts summoned him.
Aravand stood, grabbed his black flag, and waved it. He watched his men spring to life. Some blew horns. A group of ten men pushed against a mighty boulder that had been preselected and loosened. It careened down the hill smashing into the caravan dividing the rearguard from the middle guard. Further down the mountain he knew his formations from the Tornith tribe were dividing the middle guard from the vanguard.
Then all the Northmen stood and began shooting arrows at the trapped marauders below. The Southerners were well disciplined when they had room for their formations. Aravand had long admired their cohesive tactics and hoped to emulate them among his own men, but they resisted importing such dishonorable Southern methods.
Screams of men, and animals echoed through the canyon walls. Aravand curled his lip with disgust. His eyes were focused on the plate clad captain who was trying to get his men to put up a shield wall. Well, that won’t do. He waved his flag again and the men pushed more boulders down onto their enemy.
His right hand pulled his battle ax from his back sling, and he pulled his short sword with his left. “Charge!” he screamed and began to run down the hill eager to be at the fore of his men. The nascent formations of Southerners were disrupted when Aravand barreled into them.
To Aravand, it almost seemed like he was watching himself from above as he waded into his enemy. His first kill was an old, seasoned warrior who raised a sword but had not the strength to parry Aravand’s blow. The ax cleaved the man’s neck. A young man no more than twenty winters old stood and stared at Aravand without even raising his shield or his weapon. Aravand watched as his short sword thrust up into the man’s throat, twisted and withdrew in time to block a loosely held spear which fell from its holder’s hands.
“I yield,” shouted the spear holder. He had red hair, perhaps a mix of Northern and Southern blood. He even had four tattoos on his knuckles that were traditional in the North. Each one represented one of his children. He was a father of four. Aravand’s short sword thrust into the spearman’s screaming mouth. Fight for the South die like a Southerner.
Finally, Aravand reached the captain whose private guards were falling rapidly. Goddess, let me be the one to kill him. Calmly Aravand assessed the captain’s armor. It was expensive looking but flawed. The captain was too fat and had loosened the armor’s articulation to make it more comfortable. This meant there were gaps at his shoulders and at his elbows. He was wearing no chain under at his neck. That’s a fundamental flaw. He has become careless and arrogant from having too much success raiding the North. There were two guards between Aravand and the captain. He knew he could deal with them, but it would take time, and his good friend Bern was almost upon the captain. I must have the kill myself. The two guards approached him swords raised tentatively.
Aravand threw his ax. It sailed over the guards’ heads. Time seemed to slow down. Aravand watched the ax and out of his peripheral vision watched the guards launch themselves at him. While he was dodging the guards blows, he watched the ax decapitate the captain.The deed is done… and I feel nothing. Aravand’s short sword dispatched the two guards. Did I really expect my hollowed heart to fill with the death of my father’s killer? The goddess does not reward a murderous rage such as mine. He looked around at the bodies of the men he had killed. The spearman’s dead eyes were looking right at him in shock and naïve condemnation. We shall meet again yielding man, and little man, and old man, and steady guards… we shall meet in my nightmares for all my years in this cursed realm. I will listen to your wives’ wail, your children bawl and your mothers’ scream. That is the price the goddess sends me every night to taunt me for my sins.
I finished my fourth rewrite of Dragons Awake : Book 3 of the Icor Tales. It has been shipped to the editors. I should get it back on 31st for some final tweaks before being uploaded on November 12th and released November 16th.
The pacing definitely became problematic in the closing scenes of Book 3 Dragons Awake. Too many things happening too quickly, such that the reader’s head would be spinning. I ignored the problem for now and will need the help of a great editor to pace it better.
There are a bunch of twists and turns and my beta readers will need to help me out to determine if they’re too obvious or too obfuscated. I am almost ready for the beta reading process.
My best guess is I will finish writing the first draft this weekend. It is by far the most complex, most action filled book of the series so far. I am so glad I took five days away to outline the next book in the Icor Tales world, which is a stand alone novel set during the fall of the ancients. The book is unnamed at the moment but in my notes I call it “MS and BS”. It does feature Violet. Events from this next book are mentioned in Book 3.
I got my first one star review this month which is a right of passage for every author.
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The third book in the Icor Tales Series “Dragons Awake” has … you guessed it dragons… and a lot of them… a heck of a lot of them. It also has crimson wizards, which we meet in Book 2 : “In the Hall of the Ancients”. It’s not really a spoiler to say they meet. Sometimes they work together and sometimes they are enemies.
Dragons awake features a confrontation where crimson wizards, with their endless shields and streams of fire, battle almost indestructible dragons with their enormous strength, claws and fire. Who will win? Well that would be a spoiler.
I don’t have an artists render of Phillipa yet but this is my inspiration …
The plan was to escape the town tonight. She had buried supplies outside the city gates. She knew where to rendezvous with the rebels. She had discreetly sold all she could not carry. For the next twelve hours she just had to pretend to be another manic supporter of Mott, Bestich and the menzach. Mott had sent his wizard’s flame into countless numbers of the faithless.
There are two parts to me now, thought Phillipa, as she sat upon the cart. There is the part that lives in this world, and sits here and smiles, and laughs and watches the butchers. Then there is the part that watches the other part with horror. It scorns me. It flinches in horror while I laugh at another execution. That part of me will always stand in judgement over the coward that wants to survive. What is so good about seeing another sunrise? I have not been brave these past few days… but tonight I will be.
She continued knitting as the man screamed and begged as he was dragged to the cart. Phillipa threw her head back to show how hard she was laughing. Goddess forgive me. I threw myself on my knees to worship Bestich as soon as his crimson wizards were reborn. The victim locked eyes with her. It was Araman, the man who made cider, elderberry wine and gooseberry jam. He would sharpen knives and sell pins and now he was being lashed to the wheel of a cart.
“Please, I thought he was dead,” said Araman. “I worship Bestich now. I will be loyal.”
Mott’s icor enhanced voice responded. “Sweet summer friend. You took the blessings of Bestich’s harvest. You took the safety and security Bestich gifted you but when our wise and loving lord gave you the slightest test of your faith, you spurned him for the false prophets and promises of the rebels. Let your bones serve to cushion the cart. As they break at least they serve to comfort the loyal passengers of Bestich’s chariot.
Phillipa closed her eyes momentarily — just a brief second to shelter against the horror, before again being immersed in her reality, not just witnessing but participating in the subjugation of those who had dared to dream to be free.
She was surrounded by flags, black circles on a red background, the flags of Bestich’s Merconia. Flags are excuses for inhumanity, she thought. The more someone waves the flag of their nation, the more they hate the people of that nation. They hide their resentments, bitterness, and vile intent behind shows of patriotism. They disconnect the people of a nation from the idea of the nation, and then they can unleash their most bestial impulses on the people; waving the glorious flag, beating their chests in the certain knowledge that their rapes, their tortures, and their executions are noble and just. Never trust a man waving a flag. There is no flag imbued with indulgences for the murder of innocents.
The cart was now adorned with sixteen traitors to Merconia who had dared to speak for freedom from fear, and the menzach, and all the odious apparatus of subjugation. Phillip beamed a manic smile at Mott, praying the smile did not freeze and falter, and praying that her name would not be pricked on the scrolls before she had time to flee. Night can’t come too soon, she thought.
The cart jerked into motion as the horses strained to pull the uneven wheels. The screams from the victims tied to the wheels startled the normally laid back shire horses; one reared up a little, just a couple of feet in the air, but then it pulled forward. More screams. She could hear the crunching sound as the cart began to crush the victims’ bones. A spray of blood hit her face. Her smile froze and tears came to her eyes. She looked urgently to see if Mott had noticed. He was busy scanning the crowds for signs of anyone who showed a lack of enthusiasm. She smiled just before his gaze met hers. She knew better than to wipe the blood from her face, instead she licked her lips as if savoring the taste. Mott’s reptilian smile was her response and her reward.
Later she stood before her wash bowl looking at the black flakes of dried blood on her face. The black badge of cowardice. She plunged her face in the bowl and kept it there as long as she could, impotently trying to bury her shame in watery grave. She pulled her head up and gasped for air. Her shame had not lessened. She opened her eyes and stared at her reflection. There were still black flakes on her face. She rubbed them, but they did not come off. Freckles? Did I always have this many? She shook her head and threw the bowl of water out into the street gutter. It was dark but the swathe of stars in the sky looked like frothy river.
Time to go.
She looked around furtively; there were no watchmen in sight. She reentered her home and went to Elijah’s bed. He was sleeping soundly. She pulled back the covers and with a practiced hand she turned the sheet he was sleeping in into a sling holding Elijah. She wrapped the sling around her stomach so she could carry him with ease. Quickly she grabbed her arrow, quiver, backpack, wine bladder and water bladder. The moment of no return was upon her. A weight settled on her shoulders. I am making a decision here that could cost me everything, including the life of Elijah. Am I doing the right thing? She closed the door of her home for the last time and leant her head against it. She kissed the door. Goodbye home, you saw me give birth thrice, raise my boys and lose two of them. Now I take the last of my blood before Bestich’s minions take him too.