Joe Satriani: What Happens Next

#nowplaying What Happens Next by Joe Satriani: a solid batch of instrumental Satch boogies that will take repeated listens to fully appreciate.

Cover art for Joe Satriani's What Happens Next album
Cover art for Joe Satriani’s What Happens Next album

Given time I think it’ll grow on me, but at the moment I think Unstoppable Momentum (2013) was Joe Satriani’s last excellent album. This one, like Shockwave Supernova (2015), is good but not at the same level as his classics.

Of course, if I want The Extremist (1992) or Surfing with the Alien (1987) I know exactly where to find them.

1 in 8 new adults in Japan are not Japanese

I just saw a moderately interesting article in the Japan Times courtesy of

Reiji Yoshida reports that in Tokyo, 1 out of every 8 young women celebrating their coming of age in Japanese culture are not Japanese citizens. It must feel strange to work hard to fit into a given society and culture, but not be acknowledged as part of that society or culture or be counted as a citizen.

Not that the USA is consistently better in this regard, but we are long overdue for a national discussion on what it even means to be an American. It won’t be pretty.

BNR Metal Pages

The BNR Metal Pages was once of the first websites I discovered when I first got online back in 1996, and they’re still around over 20 years later. If you’ve just gotten your first taste of heavy metal, you’ll discover lots of new bands here. And if you’re long past your golden age of leather, you’ll find lots of memories.

New Start for a New Year. Help Wanted.

Some of you may have noticed that my website looks different again. No doubt you’re sick of the endless changes, but it truly was time for a fresh start. I don’t blame you, but there’s a reason I’ve been messing around with my website instead of just writing Shattered Guardian.

Incidentally, for readers expecting me to write a novel called Blackened Phoenix: I’ve changed the title. The old title kept making me hungry, and I wanted the novel’s title to focus on Morgan’s struggles rather than on organizational issues.

What is My Major Malfunction?

With that said, one might reasonably ask what’s taking so damned long with Shattered Guardian. After all, I published Silent Clarion back in October 2016, a little over a year ago. I published Without Bloodshed way back in November 2013. Am I just dicking around?

Maybe. It’s more complicated than that, though I don’t expect anybody to sympathize.

For starters, I live with a form of depression called dysthymia that basically makes adulting harder. Drugs don’t help, and neither does therapy. I’ve tried both.

Despite my dysthymia, I still manage to take care of business. I still have my day job as a software developer. I’m still happily married to my wife of thirteen years, Catherine Gatt. We bought a house in June 2017, mere weeks after I took Catherine to Paris to celebrate her 40th birthday.

It’s not like I haven’t been writing, either. I’ve got almost a dozen different first chapters for Shattered Guardian, but I’m not happy with any of them. Worse, I’m not sure how best to continue should I just say “screw it” and pick one, because I have as many outlines as I do first chapters and none of them are satisfactory, either.

It’s like that old song “Flaming Telepaths” goes:

Is it any wonder that my mind’s on fire
Imprisoned by the thought of what to do?

Blue Öyster Cult

Why is a Sequel Harder? I Managed a Prequel

Why is this the case? I think it’s because while you can read Without Bloodshed as a stand-alone work, the events of that novel have repercussions that must affect the subsequent novels, and I haven’t figured out how to deal with them yet.

However, I think there’s a deeper problem at work. I think the well has run dry.

The question is what I’m going to do about it. To start with, I’m shelving Shattered Guardian for now. Instead, I want to focus on fleshing out the setting and characters; I suspect that I don’t understand them nearly as well as I thought I did, and certainly not well enough to write the novels I want to write.

Instead, I’m going to take the winter off and spend it reading. I can’t take a season of rest away from my day job, but instead of trying to force Shattered Guardian as I have been, I’m going to leave it alone. It’ll be there when I’m ready, and hopefully a quiet winter spent whittling my to-be-read pile will help me refill that well.

I’m also going to spend time writing small posts about how the world of Starbreaker works as well as posts about the characters. I hope you’ll read and share them.

Is That All? Of Course Not

I also have a couple of non-Starbreaker projects I’d like to deal with.

  • I’d like to finish The Rebel Branch Initiate’s Guide to the Alchemists’ Council, a commentary on Canadian author Cynthea Masson’s literary fantasy, The Alchemists’ Council. She has a sequel coming out called The Flaw in the Stone, and it might be nice to catch up with the first novel before the second one drops if I’m going to keep up the RBIG.
  • I think a comprehensive series of Unix for Writers articles might be worth doing. I’ve seen quite a few writers struggle because they think they need a top-of-the-line machine with the latest version of Windows and the latest version of Microsoft Word, but can’t afford to pay for it, and
    many of them would be perfectly fine with a refurbished laptop manufactured 5-10 years ago if they knew how to install a BSD or GNU/Linux and use free software.
  • I’d like to do something a little more constructive with my tendency to rant, and contain all of my rants within a collection of essays called Everything Considered Harmful.
  • The rights to Without Bloodshed have reverted to me, and I think I would like to post the original 2013 text online for all to read.

Time for a Fresh Start

To that end, I’ll be redesigning and rebuilding this blog. Some content will move. Some content will go away. I hope you’ll stick around. In any case, once I get WordPress working properly I have no intention of breaking it and trying something new just because it’s shiny. I wasted enough time on that nonsense, and it’s time to get serious.

I could use your help. Since I’m going to commit to using WordPress to manage my web presence for the long haul, I’d love it if you registered with your names (pseudonyms are OK) and email addresses, and left comments on my posts whenever you have time.

If you’d rather not comment, thanks for reading anyway.

The Alchemists’ Council: Prologue

After the introduction to the setting and explanation of the ranks of the Alchemists’ Council provided in the Prima Materia, the Prologue touches on events occurring five years prior to be beginning of the novel:

  • The conjunction of Saule
  • The search for initiation of Jaden
  • Cedar’s betrayal of Saule
  • The debate over whether to release the Council’s bees into the
    outside world.

The fact that Cynthea Masson chose to depict these events, one from Saule’s viewpoint and the other three from Cedar’s (whose essence consumed Saule’s during their conjunction) suggests that Cedar is an extremely important character, and possibly an antagonist of Jaden’s. The implication that Cedar somehow betrayed Saule during their conjunction and that somebody named Sadira might have suffered as a result further cements my impression.

The bee question is also important, and not simple. Cedar believes that if the Council’s bees are not released into mundane space to repair the world, the outside environment will suffer catastrophic failures within five years. However, Ruis insists that turning the bees loose would cause irreparable damage to Council dimension.

However, the question of whether to loose the bees isn’t for either of them to decide. Nor will it be decided here.

What is Conjunction?

Conjunction is an alchemical process in which the essence of two individuals become one. The process is reminiscent to the Sacred Marriage described in an allegorical romance entitled The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkruetz, the third manifesto of the original Rosicrucians, a German philosophical secret society active in the early seventeenth century.

When two initiates of the Alchemists’ Council conjoin, their essences combine and only one person remains. The result is variable; one personality may dominate, or the person coming out of conjunction may be a synthesis of the original two.

The act of conjunction is also a process of eliminating possibilities. Consider a hypothetical conjunction between Alice and Barbara. Should Alice’s essence consume Barbara’s, then Claire would be initiated while Diane would die of natural causes, her potential unrealized. However, if Barbara’s essence dominates, it will be Diane who joins the council, while Claire dies. While Alice and Barbara remain unconjoined, all possibilities remain in play but unrealized.

Regardless of which personality dominates, or whether two equally strong personalities form a synthesis, conjunction is Thunderdome: Two alchemists enter; one alchemist leaves.

This is important because Junior Initiates in the Alchemists’ Council aren’t ordinarily told the truth about conjunction. Learning the truth, as Jaden does later on, will shape her character and drive her actions in the novel.

What about Final Conjunction?

As I understand it, the Final Conjunction is different from other conjunctions. Rather than the essence of two alchemists combining into one (with the attendant clash of personalities), the Final Conjunction is one between the Azoth Magen (the eldest and highest-ranking member of the Alchemists’ Council) and the Lapis itself. In the Final Conjunction, the Azoth Magen becomes part of the Lapis, surrendering their individuality and returning Quintessence to the Lapis.

Just as in regular conjunctions, the Final Conjunction results in an open position within the Alchemists’ Council. A new Azoth Magen must be chosen, most likely from among the Azoths, and so on down the ranks until new Junior Initiates are recruited. The rise of a new Azoth Magen also presages the beginning of a new Council, as I understand it. At the moment, Ailanthus presides. Whether that remains the case is an open question.

The Alchemists’ Council: Prima Materia

The Prima Materia in Cynthea Masson’s The Alchemists’ Council provide the mythological and alchemical origins and underpinnings of the setting, and serve as a prelude to the prologue, which I will discuss in the next part of the Rebel Branch Initiates’ Guide.

Prima Materia

In the beginning, there was no Alchemists’ Council. Such a thing was unnecessary, for the Lapis and its ruby Flaw coexisted in perfect harmony as the Calculus Macula (CM), sharing quintessence in a world where everything simply existed without intention. This state of affairs continued until somebody named Aralia became conscious of themselves as a being capable of acting intentionally.

This Aralia subsequently got the notion that they were superior to all others, and claimed the CM for their own. Another being, Osmanthus, followed Aralia’s lead. Naturally, the two opposed one another for two beings possessed of ego and sure of their own superior can’t possibly coexist or share.

Matters rapidly degenerated from that point as other people became conscious of themselves as individuals, chose sides, and went to war. Their combat affected the CM itself, as Aralian victories shifted the balance toward blue and Osmanthian successes pulled the balance toward red.

Eventually Aralia and Osmanthus put aside their arms and reconciled, becoming One again through the first alchemical Conjunction, but it was too late. Nobody else was willing to relinquish ego and intention. Worse, their chemical wedding fractured the world, the Prima Materia, into three dimensions. The Aralian faction took one faction. The Osmanthians claimed the other. They retained access to the CM and understanding of the world’s true nature. Everybody else in the third dimension became the province of whichever faction controlled the CM, while remaining ignorant of the true nature of the world.

Paying Attention? This Will Come Up Again

On the immediate story level, this myth can be used to explain the origins of the Alchemists’ Council (Aralians?), the Rebel Branch (Osmanthians?), and everybody else (muggles?). The third dimension is the real world, and those who live there are mainly ignorant of the alchemical machinations behind the scenes. A scholar might get a quick peek behind the curtain, only to dismiss their insight as one brought on by fatigue.

Digging deeper, a reader familiar with both the Judeo-Christian myth of the Garden of Eden and the tenets of Buddhism may notice that Masson used a synthesis of the two in the Prima Materia origin story. She makes no mention of sin or of disobedience, but it is plain that Aralia changed when they gained intention. Assuming this is a story that initiates of the Alchemists’ Council learn as an explanation for the necessity of the Council’s Great Work, it implies that the Council frowns upon individual intention and free will.

Furthermore, the emphasis on conjunction, where the essence of one person merges with that of another to create a single being where two once existed, will recur throughout The Alchemists’ Council and the results of conjunctions between Council members can determine who lives, who dies, and who gets initiated into the Council later on.

Familiar Names?

For some reason, the name Aralia reminds me of Aradia, a figure currently important in Wicca and some neo-Pagan traditions. However, Aradia originally appeared in the work of American folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland, who published Aradia, or The Gospel of the Witches in 1899.

According to Leland, this book was a religious text belonging to Tuscan covens who venerated Diana as the Queen of the Witches. No doubt Hecate had somewhat to say about Diana muscling in on her turf, but gods supplant each other all the time. Just ask Zeus about his dad Chronos.

However, googling the names Aralia and Osmanthus reveals that these are the names of two plant genera. Aralia is a genus consisting of 68 species of trees, shrubs, and perennial herbs native to Asia and North America. Osmanthus is a genus of 30 flowering plant species ranging in size from shrubs to small trees, all evergreen. I don’t know if Prof. Masson was aware of this connection, but I find it interesting.

So, You Want to Be an Alchemist?

The Alchemists’ Council must occasionally replenish its ranks by reaching out to an uninitiated individual whose presence their texts foretold, and initiating them. Once initiated, an alchemist leaves the mundane realm and takes up residence in Council dimension, where their lives are extended through access to quintessence, the fifth element, obtained by proximity to the Lapis. All members of the Council are endowed by the Lapis with the ability to speak with one another and be understood, and live in beauty and splendor.

However, they don’t spend their time turning lead into gold, or creating the Philosopher’s Stone. Rather, the initiates of the Alchemists’ Council, who walk the line between science and magic, chemistry and mysticism, work to maintain the elemental balance of the world and ensure it remains hospitable to life.

A hundred and one initiated members constitute the Alchemists’ Council, though the number of actual members can vary due to conjunctions and erasures. More on both later, but when either happens, the Council must recruit new initiates from the mundane world into a pocket universe referred to throughout the novel as “Council dimension”.

Like any esoteric order, the Alchemists’ Council possesses varying degrees of initiation. In fact, the Council’s orders roughly correspond to the hierarchy of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which in turn borrowed the structure from the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, who derived it from the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross.

Rose Cross Lamen of the Golden Dawn
Rose Cross Lamen of the Golden Dawn

One progresses through the ranks through study and accomplishment of the prescribed work for one’s rank, though an individual’s progress can be interrupted if an initiate conjoins with another, and their essence is consumed. Likewise, should one transgress against the council, they may be subject to erasure and permanent removal from Council dimension.