Mischievous imps blowing invisible darts that stoke human passions and spin them out of control, moving twigs a few inches across the forest floor providing links in conflagrations that would not otherwise occur, plucking the strings of nature to produce crescendos of catastrophe. Zen-mathematician wizards dancing in their ice spheres high in the Vaznal Mountains, solving ever-deepening riddles of sound and sight and sensation, weaving order from the chaos the Loci imps foment. Winged muses carving sensuous stories from the clouds and celebrating the lives of those from whose dreams and tribulations they were born.
A fiery giantess is held captive in a hollow mountain. A sea serpent’s breath inspires the priestess of an island oracle poised above a chasm beneath which it sleeps. City-states are at war; slaves, led by a charismatic general, are in uprising; dictators and warlords are vying for power; neighboring kingdoms and empires are strategically courting local clients in pursuit of regional hegemony or outright conquest. Human avarice has strained the natural context on which it thrives. And ordinary people in extraordinary times, caught within the vortex of the powers that both surround and comprise them, navigate those turbulent currents.
Follow the adventures of Algonion Goodbow, the magical archer; Sarena of Ashra, the young girl at the center of this epic tale; their friends and mentors, guides and adversaries, as they thread the needle of great events, and discover truths even more profound than the myths of legend and lore. Discover the truth of fiction and the fiction of truth; celebrate the fantastic and sublime, in this magical tale laden with rich echoes of world history and world mythology, informed by blossoms of human consciousness from Chaos Theory to Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts, from Richard Dawkin’s Meme Theory to Eastern Mysticism, enriched by the author’s own travels and adventures.
A prophesied Disruption is upon the land of Calambria, causing the Earth to quake and societies to crumble. The Loci imps are its agents, but, according to Sadache mythology, it is Chaos, one of the two Parents of the Universe, who is its ultimate author. As Chaos eternally strives to make the One Many, Cosmos, the other Parent of the Universe, strives to make the Many One. The Sadache people view themselves as the children of Cosmos, whom they worship, and the lowest rung of a hierarchy of conscious beings opposing Chaos and the Loci imps. Above them, both of them and apart from them, are the drahmidi priests of the Cult of Cosmos, founded by the hero and conqueror Ogaro centuries before. Above the drahmidi are the Vaznallam wizards, Cosmos’s agents, just as the Loci are Chaos’s.
As the Great Disruption begins to manifest itself, Sarena of Ashra, a peasant girl from a village on the outskirts of the city-state of Boalus, flees an unwanted marriage to an arrogant lord and in search of freedom and destiny. She meets a young vagabond on the road, coming from the seat of the ceremonial High Kingdom, Ogaropol, fleeing his own pursuers. Together they form an alliance that leads through adventures together and apart, and binds them into two halves of a single whole.
Swirling around them are the wars of would be dictators and cult-leaders, of neighboring empires and kingdoms; the adventures of young Champions engaged in the prophesied Contest by which the Redeemer would be chosen and the Realignment realized. But, in both different and similar ways, the culmination of centuries of history flows through these two people, Algonion and Sarena, on haphazard quests of their own. And both the past and the future are forever changed by their discoveries and deeds.
Several influences molded me as a writer over the years: A fascination with classical history and mythology, a love of science fiction and fantasy, years of world travel laden with ample adventures of my own, and a deep sense of wonder about the systems of Nature, most particularly (though by no means exclusively) about the human sphere of Nature, fed by a highly analytical and imaginative mind and abundant sources on which to draw.
At around the age of 18 (in 1977 or 1978), I wrote a short psychedelic vignette called “River Palace” which was the first seed of what would later become A Conspiracy of Wizards. A couple of years later, while living in Berkeley, I started an unrelated novel in which crystalized talismans of the five elements of classical natural philosophy had magical properties that were amplified when brought together, an idea that found its way into A Conspiracy of Wizards.
Most of my 20s was dedicated to world travels and adventures and the keeping of journals laden with descriptions and contemplations. Many of the real-world, visceral descriptive passages from those journals found their way into A Conspiracy of Wizards. During this time I also read prolifically and broadly, trying to catch up on as many classics of literature and of more recent intellectual discovery as I possibly could.
One year into my career as a sociology grad student in Connecticut, having become an aficionado of Chaos Theory in the late 1980s and believing it to be a critical piece of the puzzle of the story of our existence, I wrote a vignette about Chaos and Order being the parents of the universe, and immediately knew that this would be the nucleus of the novel I had always dreamed of writing.
During my grad student career in Connecticut, I was working on my novel at the same time that I was soaking up the spectrum of social theory, designing my world and weaving bits and pieces of my gradually emerging synthesis of the social theoretical landscape into it and the story-line. I incorporated into the novel a variety of epistemological theories (including, for instance, Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” most visibly in the scene of Algonion in the ice sphere), Marxist theory, microeconomic and game theory, and network analysis and epidemiology. I also incorporated my previously acquired knowledge of international relations and world history to create a more complex and in many ways “realistic” world than is found in most novels of any kind, let alone fantasy fiction. The geopolitics and geopolitical and military strategies found in the novel are, I think, particularly elaborate and faithful to the forms found in the real world.
Two years into my status as “All-But Dissertation,” not actually writing my dissertation, I left the program and my position as a college lecturer to work full time on my novel. In many ways, I realized, I had been in the Ph.D. program primarily to inform my novel. Before moving out west, I took a couple of months to do a car trip around New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada, during which, while camping and hiking in beautiful Acadia National Park in Maine, I fully fleshed out the story of Cholumga (derived from “Chomo Lungma,” Tibetan for “Earth Mother” and the Tibetan name for Mount Everest), the giantess trapped in the hollow mountain. I did this in part by telling the story to a young girl and her mother who I ran into while hiking, as we sat on a bluff overlooking the gorgeous autumn colors. (Also from Acadia comes the imagery of Algonion arriving at the sea as he is escaping Lokewood.)
In late 1996, I moved to a cabin in the mountains of Northern New Mexico for a year (in Cabresto Canyon, between Questa and Red River, north of Taos) to write the first draft of the novel, simultaneously focusing my informal studies more on World Mythology and World History (both long-time interests of mine, along with International Relations), including studying Joseph Campbell’s analyses of mythological motifs. The multi-hued beauty of Northern New Mexico and the Four Corners region, around which I took frequent car-and-camping trips, filtered into the imagery of the novel. I then finished the millennium in Albuquerque, teaching and taking classes, working through some of the issues and challenges with my novel, developing it further, and developing other ideas as well (such as a series of vignettes about the institutionalization of time travel, including reunions of multiple selves across time, branching historical trajectories, and the colonization of the past). I began to submit excerpts of the novel to agents and publishers, trying to line up a publication deal, but without success.
While living in the cabin in the mountains of northern New Mexico, I used to wander into the forest and visualize various characters in particular locations dedicated to each, having conversations with them to flesh out who they were. It was a form of intentional, self-induced semi-hallucination, powerful enough that occasionally a character would “say” something that would surprise me! This was a technique for discovering each character’s own authenticity rather than populating my world with contrived characters with less of a life of their own.
I believe it was also while I was in New Mexico that I saw (on video tape borrowed from the Taos library, since I had no television reception in my cabin) a National Geographic special on the rain forest canopy ecosystem, the imagery of which inspired the imagery of Algonion’s largely airborne trek through Lokewood in search of the Loci imps, one of my descriptively favorite passages.
Also while in New Mexico, I further developed my sociological paradigm, focusing it more on Richard Dawkins’ “Meme Theory,” which provided a lynchpin to the synthesis I had been developing. This has since found its way into the novel, particularly in the Kindle e-book version, in my newly rewritten description of the Vaznallam mindscape and the fractal geometry of their mental representation of the Sadache cognitive landscape, which is the imagery presented in a series of expository essays I’ve written on the fractal geometry and evolutionary ecology of our shared human cognitive landscape (and, along with it, our social institutional and technological landscape).
In December of 1999, I set out for Mexico to find a spot in which to continue to work on the novel, living modestly off investments, which were doing well at the time. I ended up in Mazatlan, where I developed the routine of waking up before dawn to write from my balcony, watching the morning light spread over the city and the bay while I was writing. I stayed in Mazatlan for over two years, taking several car trips to various regions of Mexico while there, all of which also contributed something to the imagery of the novel. During that time I got married and toward the end of my time in Mazatlan finished the current hard copy version of the novel and began seeking unsuccessfully to publish it.
We moved up to the Denver area in the summer of 2002 (and had our wonderful daughter, Scheherazade, in 2003), and I embarked on a combination of teaching, law school, a run for the state legislature, public policy research and analysis, and a variety of civic engagement, not touching the novel other than to self-publish it in 2005. The combination of my failure to do anything to market the novel and my realization that I had not, in fact, finished refining it prior to publishing it, that I had not ironed out all of the rough spots, that I had not perfected my own vision of what the novel should be, culminated in my decision in the summer of 2013 to do one more set of revisions and refinements, and to republish it as an e-book.
The ebook version of the novel is now available, via the links provided at the top and bottom of this narrative.
Sarena watched a bird of golden light with silver wings circling overhead. In broad, sweeping curves it descended toward her until she recognized that the bird was in fact an Ilyarian woman, her perfect form accentuated by a thin veil of mist draped across her body. Alighting as lightly as a fallen feather, she gazed at Sarena through wide-set indigo eyes, windswept sky-blue hair framing the golden sun of her face.
Azhanli’s voice was musical, rich with harmonized tones, a symphony of speech. “Sarena of Ashra,” she chimed, curtsying with the grace of a dancer, delicately collapsing her body, arching her wings outward and upward. “Yours is the story I am sworn to bear, a song of she who shall come to share the fables we tell, where muses dwell, strolling among the colonnades and courtyards of our cathedral in the clouds!”
Before Sarena could react, Azhanli pivoted to stand beside her, swinging her arm around Sarena’s waist in a single swift motion and rising into the air on outstretched and powerful wings.
They passed through trailers of mist high above the earthly sphere, and into a thickening bank of fog, soaring through a gossamer sea, vapors streaking past like the weird wayside of some ethereal highway. Then they emerged into the sunlight once again, and beheld the glorious cloudscape of Ilyaria.
They glided effortlessly over a frothing carpet punctuated by random curls and ragged holes. Massive floating platforms with tapered turnip-root bases hovered at various heights above and below. Huge foamy crescents stood like frozen waves forever poised on the verge of breaking, wisps of spray suspended motionless beside them. Azure-haired and golden-skinned Ilyarians reclined in clusters on the platforms, gowns of spun mist refracting the white brilliance of Ilyaria in sparkles of bright color.
They came to a quiet place, where the laughter and music had faded to a distant whisper, and the fibrous sea stretched unbroken in all directions. Azhanli dove toward it, wings spread wide, leveling off at the last instant, skimming the surface, sweeping upward to a stall and setting down so gently that Sarena could not feel the moment of their landing. She knew that she was standing on her own only when she saw Azhanli an arm’s length away, no longer holding her aloft.
Together they strolled astride the airy earth toward a distant glint of light in the sky, which resolved itself into a rapidly approaching Ilyarian. “Azhanli!” he called, as he descended in a graceful arc to the ground. “Come to join me in a bit of gardening?”
Azhanli laughed almost inaudibly. “No, Zaliya, just to observe. There is time yet before the Chorus convenes. I thought our guest might enjoy watching you at work.”
Zaliya’s eyes sparkled approval. Then he glanced about, moving his hands as if taking the measure of the land, at first quite casually. But gradually his movements became more pronounced, taking on, not a formal air, but an intentional one. The gestures were graceful and fluid, progressing from the careless motions of one musing to himself to an elaborate dance, as though he were trying to extract something from the vapors around him. He became emersed in a kind of moving trance, with long, smooth sweeps of his arms, pivots upon one foot, arches and flutters of his wings.
Even as Zaliya began, the cloudscape began to change, subtly at first, then more noticeably. The white froth parted like morning mist in the heat of day, unveiling a carpet of moss beneath. Low hills rose in the distance, obscured by the thinning haze, slowly drawing closer, reaching higher, becoming more diverse. Rock formations appeared, varieties of shades and shapes and textures. A fog-filled basin cleared to reveal a cool blue pond, its placid surface steaming with the last wisps of evaporating mist.
Zaliya submerged himself in his art, making bolder, sharper, more violent gestures. His hands struck the air, his arms ripped at unseen fabrics. In his enthusiasm he drifted upward, hovering above the turf, conducting his symphony with hands and feet and wings flailing rapturously. His face, serene at the outset, now revealed inner-torments, conflicting emotions, unyoked and explosive passions. His chiseled features took on the fierceness of a warrior, the ecstacy of a lover, the fear of a man before the infinite. The calm mountain had become an erupting volcano, its lava hardening into a complex and beautiful landscape.
As Zaliya’s gestures grew sharper and more dramatic, so too did the changes he wrought. Small shrubs and bold branching trees grew around the banks of the pond, exploding from nothingness into being with startling suddenness. Strokes like the dabbing of brush on canvas, only in reverse, coaxed color from his canvas, invoking bright blossoms on a gently inclined flower bed: Out they popped and bloomed, as though too eager to wait nature’s course. He carved from the desolation an elaborate panorama, every twig and leaf carefully in place. Water lilies sprang from the surface of the pond; frogs and birds and squirrels began to make their presence known. Scents and sounds filled the air. The sun burned away the last of the mist, and the blank slate to which they had come was transformed into a joyful collage of living things.
Zaliya lowered himself onto the newly groomed earth, relaxing with a deep sigh, inviting his guests to join him with a silent gesture. Sarena strolled along the immaculate paths as the two Ilyarians accompanied her in low, looping flight, a tableau of exquisite treats for all the senses arrayed with an artist’s precision and flair. They picked plump berries from drooping clusters, and let the sweet juice caress them, inhaling the fragrant air, serenaded by the music of life.
At last, with a lackadaisical sweep of the arm, the vista evaporated as though it had never been. The trees and flowers shimmered and blurred, details growing indistinct, engulfed by a white haze emanating from the pores of the formerly bright-hued scene, until all again was uncarved mist and dull desolation. But now, the desolation no longer felt so desolate. Now, it seemed more a mirror of the mind waiting to reflect a glancing imagination. “Beautiful things are ephemeral,” Zaliya said in a voice rich with sentiment, “but their beauty itself can never be destroyed. The moment was, is, and forever will be.”
(For other excerpts from “A Conspiracy of Wizards,” see The Hollow Mountain, The Wizards’ Eye, “Flesh Around A Whim”. and Prelude to “A Conspiracy of Wizards”. Also see The History of the Writing of “A Conspiracy of Wizards” and About “A Conspiracy of Wizards”.