November 13, 2004

Memo to Self

Do not, repeat, do not, late at night, read pp. 140-171 of Guy Gavriel Kay's "Byzantine" novel, Sailing to Sarantium.

It's the most terrifying thing I've ever read: an amazing accomplishment in terms of the literary skill exhibited--but not good late at night.

VERY MINOR SPOILER: I thought I understood the book's fantasy universe--a touch of magic, monotheistic, with a deus absconditus or nearly absconditus--and then the God comes, and IT'S THE WRONG GOD.

Posted by DeLong at November 13, 2004 10:08 AM | TrackBack

Just an irrelevant thought: supposing Cheney resigns due to ill heath. His replacement has a massive head start for the Republican nomination in 2008. So Bush gets to pick his successor as nominee. Who does he pick? Jeb? Rudy? McCain? Powell?

Posted by: Jez at November 13, 2004 11:21 AM


You are a gentleman of taste and refinement. I salute you.

(In all seriousness, Kay's one of those authors who would recieve many more plaudits than he has much more attention if he chose to slum in the world of memetic fiction. Is this your first read of the novel?)

Posted by: Elio Garcia at November 13, 2004 12:13 PM

Kay is one of those authors who would recieve much more acclaim if he chose to slum in the world of memetic fiction. I, for one, am very glad he hasn't gone that route, though literary fame and fortune no doubt beckons.

Is this your first reading of the series? Not only does the diptych contain one of the most frightening scenes Kay's ever written, it also contains one of the most breathtakingly exciting (in _Lord of Emperors_).

Posted by: Elio Garcia at November 13, 2004 12:16 PM

you big baby.

Posted by: big al at November 13, 2004 12:44 PM

I agree it's excellent writing, but I wasn't as impressed by the Lord of Emperors duology as by his other work. At least in the first book I kept wanting him to decide if he wanted to write a historical romance, and alternate historical romance or a full-on "fantasy inspired by".

Posted by: Liadnan at November 13, 2004 03:57 PM

I did like the Lord of Emperors duology, even if not quite as much as Lions of Al-Rassan. But Kay's work is pretty high in quality, across the board, and I agree with Elio, if he did "slum", Kay would get far more acclaim than he does.

Posted by: Paul at November 13, 2004 05:47 PM

Two subjects that economists are paying scant attention to are the investigations of Eliot Spitzer, now on insurance brokers and insurers; and, the problems surrounding the use of Vioxx and possibly Bextra long after warnings about the drugs were steadily sounded. The Vioxx of the warning on Vioxx was so complete, the only reason the drug was pulled from the market was because Merck was trying to expand its use and funded a double blind study thinking there was a separate use for the drug,

Posted by: anne at November 13, 2004 06:32 PM

Despite Warnings, Drug Giant Took Long Path to Vioxx Recall

This article was reported and written by Alex Berenson, Gardiner Harris, Barry Meier and Andrew Pollack.

In May 2000, executives at Merck, the pharmaceutical giant under siege for its handling of the multibillion-dollar drug Vioxx, made a fateful decision.

The company's top research and marketing executives met that month to consider whether to develop a study to directly test a disturbing possibility: that Vioxx, a painkiller, might pose a heart risk. Two months earlier, results from a clinical trial conducted for other reasons had suggested such concerns.

But the executives rejected pursuing a study focused on Vioxx's cardiovascular risks. According to company documents, the scientists wondered if such a study, which might require as many as 50,000 patients, was even possible. Merck's marketers, meanwhile, apparently feared it could send the wrong signal about the company's confidence in Vioxx, which already faced fierce competition from a rival drug, Celebrex.

"At present, there is no compelling marketing need for such a study," said a slide prepared for the meeting. "Data would not be available during the critical period. The implied message is not favorable."

Merck decided not to conduct a study solely to determine whether Vioxx might cause heart attacks and strokes - the type of study that outside scientists would repeatedly call for as clinical evidence continued to show cardiovascular risks from the drug. Instead, Merck officials decided to monitor clinical trials, already under way or planned, that were to test Vioxx for other uses, to see if any additional signs of cardiovascular problems emerged.

It was a recurring theme for the company over the next few years - that Vioxx was safe unless proved otherwise. As recently as Friday, in newspaper advertisements, Merck has argued that it took "prompt and decisive action'' as soon as it knew that Vioxx was dangerous.

But a detailed reconstruction of Merck's handling of Vioxx, based on interviews and internal company documents, suggests that actions the company took - and did not take - soon after the drug's safety was questioned may have affected the health of potentially thousands of patients, as well as the company's financial health and reputation.

The review also raises broader questions about an entire class of relatively new painkillers, called COX-2 inhibitors; about how drugs are tested; and about how aggressively the federal Food and Drug Administration monitors the safety of medications once they are in the marketplace.

The decisions about how to test Vioxx were made in a hothouse environment in which researchers fiercely debated how the question should be pursued, and some even now question whether the drug needed to be withdrawn. It also took place amid a fierce battle between Vioxx and Celebrex in which federal regulators said marketing claims ran ahead of the science.

Today Merck faces not only Congressional and Justice Department investigations, but also potentially thousands of personal-injury lawsuits that could tie the company up in litigation for years and possibly cost it billions to resolve.

In late September, more than four years after that May 2000 meeting, Merck announced that it was pulling the drug off the market because a long-term clinical trial showed that some patients, after taking the drug for 18 months, developed serious cardiovascular problems. The data that ultimately persuaded the company to withdraw the drug indicated 15 cases of heart attack, stroke or blood clots per thousand people each year over three years, compared with 7.5 such events per thousand patients taking a placebo.

But the company never directly tested the theory that it used to explain the worrisome results of the clinical trial in 2000. Merck was criticized for what some charged was playing down the drug's possible heart risks; in one case, it received a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration for minimizing "potentially serious cardiovascular findings.'' And when outside researchers found evidence indicating Vioxx might pose dangers, Merck dismissed their data.

In 2001, Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, proposed to Merck a study of Vioxx in patients with severe chest pain. Merck declined, saying the patients proposed for the study did not reflect typical Vioxx users. In Dr. Bhatt's view, the company feared what it might find if it directly examined the dangers of Vioxx, one of Merck's biggest products, with sales last year of $2.5 billion.

"They should have done a trial like this," Dr. Bhatt said. "If they internally thought this drug was safe in patients with heart disease, there was no reason not to do it."

Merck executives said last week that the company acted responsibly, voluntarily withdrawing Vioxx as soon as it had clear evidence the drug was harmful. And they said that even if they had conducted the type of study they discussed internally and rejected in 2000, the company might not have detected Vioxx's risks any sooner.

"Merck wasn't dragging its feet,'' said Kenneth C. Frazier, the company's general counsel. "It's pretty hard for me to imagine that you could have done this more quickly than we did." The F.D.A., which Merck consulted, also agreed that designing a trial to specifically assess Vioxx's cardiovascular risks would have been difficult and, unless constructed to provide benefits to patients, would have been unethical as well.

But the F.D.A. itself is now under scrutiny for its handling of Vioxx. Congressional investigators are looking at whether the agency, which is charged with protecting Americans from dangerous medicines, was too lax in its monitoring of the mounting evidence against Merck's drug. Internal memos show disagreement within the F.D.A. over a study by one of its own scientists, Dr. David Graham, that estimated Vioxx had been associated with more than 27,000 heart attacks or deaths linked to cardiac problems.

So far, no clinical evidence has linked the next best-selling version, Celebrex, to cardiovascular risks. But its maker, Pfizer, has acknowledged that its other COX-2 drug, Bextra, has been shown to pose risks to patients after heart surgery. Scientists outside the company say there is evidence that Bextra's problems may affect wider groups of patients.

Posted by: anne at November 14, 2004 03:56 AM

There will be an attempt by the Administration and majority in Congress to greatly tighten the recourse consumers have to the courts to protect themselves against and gain compensation for defective products. Thousands of patients on Vioxx have suffered needlessly, have had heart attacks, because warnings about the drug were not heeded.

Posted by: anne at November 14, 2004 04:23 AM

Note to self: when Brad DeLong tells you not to read something right before you go to sleep, follow his advice

It's been a couple of years since I read Sailing to Sarantium, so I went back to remind myself of the passage this post describes. And it's just as powerful as Brad describes. The Lord of Emperors duology isn't my favorite of Kay's work (I found the conclusion of the second volume disappointing), but this particular world, which Kay has now examined in three different historical periods, is a rich one, and I hope Kay continues to explore it.

Note to some of the other posters: do the words "open thread" appear anywhere in Brad's post? Is it too much to ask that you try to remain at least vaguely on topic?

Posted by: Jeff Cooper at November 14, 2004 06:27 AM

Do New Drugs Always Have to Cost So Much?

AMERICAN politicians are so perplexed about how to deal with prescription drug prices that the best solution they can offer is to effectively import a Canadian law - by buying drugs subject to Canadian government price controls - rather than pass one of their own.

There are, however, more straightforward ways to get cheaper drugs than by borrowing price fixes from across the border. Some economists say the government can reduce pharmaceutical prices by changing how the nation pays for innovation.

Prescription drugs are expensive by design. They cost a lot to invent but are relatively cheap to make, so companies receive patents from the government that grant them a monopoly and enable them to sell the medicine at a premium. In doing so, the idea goes, drug makers recoup their investments in research and development and are encouraged to invent more.

But some economists say that there is no inexorable economic reason for drug prices to be as high as they are. "Patents are one way to get medical innovation, but they are not a fact of nature," said Michael R. Kremer, an economics professor at Harvard. "It is worth looking for alternatives."

Strong patent protection has allowed substantial spending on innovation. American drug companies invested $33 billion in it last year, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a lobbying group. But this arrangement has a measurable economic cost, keeping drugs from consumers who would buy them if they were priced like other competitive commodities - marginally above production costs.

That is not the only inefficiency that patents breed. In the insured health market, where neither patients nor their doctors actually pay for drugs, drug companies are subject to all manner of perverse incentives. For instance, they can reap more from investing in marginal improvements over existing therapies - and buying ads to persuade patients to pay big markups for them - than from investing in riskier, ground-breaking drugs.

The Food and Drug Administration has classified only about 20 percent of the drugs developed over the last 10 years as qualitative breakthroughs. Even though they spend more on research, pharmaceutical companies are finding fewer new drugs. In a report this year, the F.D.A. said that the way drugs are developed "is becoming increasingly challenging, inefficient and costly."

One alternative is to have the government pay directly for research, which some economists say could maintain innovation while reducing drug prices. The government already spends almost $30 billion a year on basic drug research at National Institutes of Health laboratories and at universities, much of which results in new drugs. It would be relatively straightforward to extend this to cover the research now done in drug company labs, economists say.

There are other alternatives. For example, the government could compensate drug companies for their inventions as an incentive for them to keep innovating. How to determine how much an innovation is worth? One possibility would be for the government to selectively buy patents at a premium over the price a private bidder was willing to offer, and then put them into the public domain, Professor Kremer said. Aidan Hollis, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Calgary in Alberta, devised a different approach: the government would set up a fund to compensate drug companies based on how much their new drugs improve the quality of life and how often they were used.

These alternatives would carry several benefits, economists say. In addition to making drugs available at lower prices, they would make it much less profitable for pharmaceutical companies to spend millions of dollars to develop drugs, like Nexium and Clarinex, that are protected by patents but offer little improvement over similar drugs already on the market.

The goal is not to spend less to develop new drugs, Professor Hollis said, but to get more therapeutic bang for the buck - by channeling investment to where it matters most - as well as to increase access to the resulting drugs. "This can be done within the same budget as we devote to pharmaceuticals now," he said.

Posted by: anne at November 14, 2004 07:24 AM

I can too write!

The warning on Vioxx was so completely masked, the only reason the drug was pulled from the market was because Merck was trying to expand its use and funded a double blind study thinking there was a separate use for the drug, You or Brad might post on such issues now or then.

Posted by: anne at November 14, 2004 07:43 AM

Well, that would have to be mighty good writing to be scarier than the prospect of the next four years....

Posted by: serial catowner at November 14, 2004 08:12 AM

If you really want to Sail to Sarantium, stare closely at an atlas, south and west of Hawaii, in the loose association of islands referred to as the Federated States of Micronesia. Now a US protectorate, (for all the good that does them), Micronesia was first ruled by the Germans during WWI-era, then the Japanese until WWII, and is occupied by the US for the last fifty years.

Focus in more closely. This is where it gets good. Look at that Cassiopeia of atolls called the Marshall Islands, each a microcosm ring- world of islets barely six feet above the sea. At the center, the largest atoll in the world, Kwajalein, home to USArmy Kwajalein Atoll, or USAKA, site of the longest continuous taxpayer military welfare bleedoff in history, Star Wars.

Kwajalein, the history books will tell you, was wrested from the Japanese at the end of WWII. Nothing remained of this traditional homeland of the Marshallese people but three square miles of pounded sand. Perfect for a giant runway.

So rather than resettle the Marshallese, the USArmy permanently moved them onto smaller, less viable sand-spits, and built USAKA, headquarters for the US in Micronesia, command center for the grotesque Bikini Atoll hydrogen bomb tests, more Micronesians moved off onto more tiny sand spits while their homelands melted into glowing glass.
Gulag Archipelago to the Marshallese, a nation of permanently occupied and relocated peoples.

Then at the height of Cold War psych, USAKA became home to the Nike-Zeus missile weapons test program, and missile systems it became for the next fifty years, as Nike morphed into Polaris, then Poseiden, then Peacekeeper, and then Patriot, our "can't miss" ABM. Kwajalein was the "downrange", the splash zone, warheads arcing down out of the ionosphere and slamming into the waters of the lagoon. Way cool, at $10M of taxpayers' money a pop.

All of which might not be so bad, except this faith-based white-collar military welfare program was about to ramp up big-time, during Ronald Reagan's terms in office, aka Star Wars.

And the Marshallese people? Now re-settled on a tiny sand spit only a few miles away from their old homeland, crowded into cinder block and tin barracks, and barged back and forth every day to serve as manual laborers, cooks, dishwashers, maids and comfort girls for the US occupiers, they adjusted to their Palestinian fate.

So Star Wars came and went, Gantt-charted then fizzled out, but USAKA remains. Today some 2,000 expatriate civilians from Huntsville and points west work at what they do best, spending your hard-earned tax dollars, watching the skies for foreign rocket launches, and the occasional Patriot missile test, for which they receive a princely and tax-exempt salary, all the food they can eat, all the booze they can drink, free housing, free utilities, a nice nine-hole golf course, bowling alley, TV and radio broadcast, and paid vacation trips home, or anywhere in the world, all on our tax dollars.

Oh, and the Marshallese? They live six to a pallet and plywood and tin room, sleeping in shifts, without any reliable electricity or running water, no sewage system, no food stores or commerce to speak of. Twice a day the Army barges them to work, then back again, to serve their occupying masters for sub-minimum wages. The most densely populated place on the *earth*.

Do you wonder why the Iraqi's resist US?

But wait, here's the best part. In 2001, to commemorate 9/11 and the guarantee of perpetual military expenditure, USAKA changed its name to the Ronald Reagan Missile Test Site. Then to commemorate the re-election of George W. Bush, who, more than anyone alive, is responsible for keeping ABM program alive, the Army proposes to rename the giant runway at Kwajalein the George W. Bush International Airport.

I'm not making this up. That's the reality. You can talk all the political and economic theory you want, but that's today's reality. American occupiers idley dreaming up commemorative names, and occupied islanders, trying to find a tree left standing to hang themselves.

I wonder if they're going to rename Baghdad's Green Zone the George W. Bush International Commercial District? Pattern it after Bahrain and throw a big Hilton shopping district up, where you can watch half-clad Phillipine girls dance the pole, drink your watered-down booze, complain, "The natives are restless tonight!"

Posted by: Teresa Michels at November 14, 2004 10:00 AM

'The Truth About the Drug Companies' and 'Powerful Medicines': The Drug Lords

DURING the past year, when I was driving my children to school, I'd hear the same advertisement on the radio again and again. You've probably heard it too: as somber music played in the background, a young man, his voice cracking, explains how he developed a rare and deadly form of cancer. He wonders if he will ever play baseball with his son, and then relates how, thanks to a company called Novartis and its new cancer treatment (never mentioned, but a drug called Gleevec), he's been given a new lease on life.

What is most fascinating about this ad is that it should seem necessary. As Marcia Angell points out in ''The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It'': ''Truly good drugs don't have to be promoted. A genuinely important new drug, such as Gleevec, sells itself.'' So why advertise a cancer drug that cures a fatal leukemia and has no competition? The answer, of course, is that Novartis is not advertising Gleevec, but the company itself -- and the virtues of the drug industry as a whole. Why? Because, as Angell notes, a ''perfect storm'' of indignation -- on the part of consumers, regulators and even doctors -- may be developing around the pharmaceutical business.

In just one week this summer, the news included reports that Schering-Plough pleaded guilty to cheating Medicaid; the city of New York sued leading pharmaceutical companies, including Amgen, Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson and Merck, for inflating costs and defrauding taxpayers; Janssen Pharmaceutica Products admitted it had withheld from the public information about potentially fatal side effects in a schizophrenia drug it markets; and Wyeth settled yet another in the multibillion dollars' worth of lawsuits against it by people who suffered permanent injury from use of the fen-phen weight-loss drugs. All this against a broad public perception of price-gouging, lack of innovation and bombastic self-congratulation. And that brings me back to the Novartis ad.

An alternative history for Gleevec is recounted in both Angell's methodical multicount indictment of the drug industry and Jerry Avorn's entertaining jeremiad, ''Powerful Medicines: The Benefits, Risks and Costs of Prescription Drugs.'' In this less heroic version, several decades of dogged research by academic scientists -- much of it paid for by American taxpayers through the National Institutes of Health -- had teased out the molecular details of chronic myelogenous leukemia, a rare and fatal hematological cancer. Researchers at Novartis (then Ciba-Geigy) created several compounds that in theory might throw a monkey wrench into the process by which blood cells become cancerous. But these potential miracle drugs sat on the shelf untested, until Brian Druker, a researcher at the Oregon Health and Science University, asked for the compounds and became the first to discern their anticancer properties in the lab dish. Even that wasn't enough. As Avorn tells it, ''Novartis had so little interest in committing resources to the drug's development that cancer researchers had to resort to the bizarre tactic of sending a petition to the company's C.E.O., signed by scientists in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of America, imploring him to make more drug available for clinical studies.''

Novartis has overcome its lack of enthusiasm -- it now charges $27,000 for a year's supply of Gleevec. But those heart-warming ads, now the centerpiece of the Novartis corporate identity, say more than intended about how today's pharmaceutical industry takes credit where little is due. As both Angell and Avorn lay out in painstaking, often enraging, detail, a self-serving mythology -- promulgated on a scale possible only in a business with annual worldwide revenues of $400 billion -- has enveloped the pharmaceutical industry. Angell and Avorn cut through the haze, arguing persuasively that Americans are paying an enormous amount of money for some very mediocre medicines.

The rising voices of disillusionment have the credentials to back up their scorn.

Posted by: anne at November 14, 2004 12:45 PM

Just my opinion on Guy Gavriel Kay here. I just can't give any respect to Kay since reading some series of his because it had way too many elements copied from 'The Lord of the Rings'. There was a Mt. Doom, there were Rohans, evil spread and darkened the land from the East (or North, I think, in his case), there were tragically killed elves and a boat that went West into the unknown, yada, yada, yada. It's not just that though, there was one character that had a name like Duidemere? that felt oddly similar to Dorothy Dunnett's Francis Crawford in the Lymond chronicles. But, I'm not sure if that was a copy, or just a similarity I noticed. Anyway, the result of his 'sampling' these bits, I felt, was inferior to the original sources and in its entirety not all that original because it still felt like the original source/world. I don't know how to explain it, except that reading the series, I felt like I was alternately in Dorothy Dunnett's world or Tolkien's world, and never really in Kay's world. Kay is a pretty lurid, visual writer though.

Posted by: chickensoup at November 14, 2004 01:28 PM

If you really want to go Sailing at Sarantium, check out NASA's X-43A Hyper-X test flight tomorrow.

Originally dubbed NASP, the National Aerospace Plane, during Reagan's (again!) Star Wars military science-fiction pogrom against welfare mothers, NASP for twenty years crawled along
at near-idle, its burn-rate only the $10B's in defense money pork barrel, extortion really by LLL and their ilk, on the pretext that it would become the "Next SS Concorde".

Well, isn't late a lovely cover for black ops? More later....

Finally, the Clinton Congress had enough! Twenty *years* and $10B's of our taxes for computer simulations and CAD graphics, with a large part of that program unaudited and not even directly related to the NASP program, just e-play. I sat through one of their shows in 1988's, trying to simulate ocean waves lapping up on a computer-graphic beach. Oh yeah, national-defense white lab-coat welfare. Hoo-ahh!!

So as they often do, and you have to follow the military to see just how often they do it, they changed the name of the program, buried the original pork and corruption in some Top Secret vault, and relaunched NASP under the sexier
moniker of X-43A. Well, that's kinda plain, how about the X-43A Really Fast Plane! Wait, no, better, "hyper" fast! The NASA X-43A Hyper-Fast, umm, X Plane!

The only thing hyper about it is our tax-dollars burn rate. In 2002 (L plus 18 years) NASA did a quick test launch, lost a fin in the first 11 seconds, and blew up $135M of your tax dollars.
NASA does a lot of that lately. Then last year, the X-43A achieved Mach 6.8, and set a new space speed record, (and blew up another $135M after, but that's heresy). Tomorrow they'll try for Mach 10, or bust.

Isn't that lovely? So why does this matter to you? Read between the lines: "The X-43A Hyper-X is a supersonic ramjet that may lead to efficient launch vehicles *and missiles* in the future." Hey, what happened to the "Next SS Concorde" sales pitch? And where did "missiles" come from, I thought NASA was a peace program!?

"At an altitude of 40,000 feet the B-52 will drop the X-43A with its booster rocket. The rocket will accelerate the X-43A to Mach 10 at an altitude of 110,000 feet and separate." But
Mach 10 is only 66% the velocity needed for satellite launch. So much for more efficient launch vehicles. A B-52, a booster rocket, the X-43A, plus *another* booster rocket? Do you see?

This was *never* about the next SS Concorde, nor low-cost satellite launches, even though they parked the program in plain sight within NASA.
To see the truth, we have to delve a little deeper into mil technology. If you're a true old-school fan of science fiction, you'll like this.

There are three natural boundary layers on earth. One hovers between 300 and 400 meters under the sea, a natural thermal and salinity barrier to sonar, that submarines have used to
their advantage for the last hundred years.

The second is the air:ground interface. Radar can't detect low-altitude objects, there's just too much natural backscatter. Air forces have used this to their advantage for the last hundred years.

There's one more layer, and this relates to Air Force 2025, the Full Spectrum Dominance of Outer Space. At an altitude of some 20 miles is a noctilucent layer, an unexpected warming of the far-upper atmosphere where the X-43A Hyper-X likes to play. The noctilucent layer is a thermocline, and it's also radio-opaque. Objects flying in the noctilucent layer can't be detected by ground radar, and are essentially invisible to look-down infrared spy satellites.

[Read Peter Torbay's, "Trinidad Blue".]

Ahh, you say, now I'm getting it! There's more.

It has to do with ballistic trajectories and GPS satellites. A ballistic missile costs $10M's and is extremely sensitive to any number of finite parameters. Using ballistic missiles to dominate
the earth's governments is simply impractical. Ballistically, they reveal exactly where they were launched from, and truth be told, they're not as accurate as the Pentagon likes to pretend.
Unless it's an all-out thermonuclear war, a fear-mongering charade from its inception, ballistic missiles are useless. Useless they've sat in their silos for fifty long years on your nickel.

Ahh, then comes hyperspace. Air:fuel instead of LOX, it can fly as far an any jet liner, half-way around the world. In the rarified air of the noctilucent layer, it can fly farther, smaller.
Besides being undetectable before striking, its point of origin can't be detected either. It launches with a small thermal signature, goes invisible, flies halfway around the world, and then drops suddenly out of the sky, with
pinpoint GPS accuracy, and about two seconds warning, just enough for the unlucky radar operator to mouth, "Oh, s&*t!"

If the X-43A Hyper-X succeeds as a weapons platform, the US military can dominate any part of the earth from CONUS, the US mainland. If some
foreign dictator rattles his sword, and uses a cell phone, or walks outside in view of an UAV, you can bet an hour or two later, there's going to be some invisible bat wings illuminating his night sky.

Is it good foreign policy? You decide. Plausible deniability, combined with lethal pin-point precision and atomic bunker-busting capability. Are you ready for your wakeup call now? Google this: "Air Force 2025 Final Report Home Page." Read. A complete contravention of the SALT I and SALT II treaties. A whole 'nuther Cold War, and you paid for it. And are continuing to pay for it. 600% percent more of your tax dollars goes toward making future nuclear war, than goes to Johnny for his reading, riting and rithmetic.

Now that's what I call Sailing to Sarantium!

Posted by: Tully Longford at November 14, 2004 01:56 PM

What are all these off-post stories about drugs doing here?

Anyway, my two cents: Kay is not just copying Tolkien. he's also copying Gene Wolfe, whose "Shadow of the torturer" series is also an astonishingly vivid rewrite of a version of the Byzantine empire. Wolfe captures some of its intense and varied religious feeling. I find Kay's characters too modern, but that kind of anachronism is hard to avoid. Also I must confess I haven't read many of this books.

Posted by: Diana at November 14, 2004 03:18 PM

Chickensoup writes: "Just my opinion on Guy Gavriel Kay here. I just can't give any respect to Kay since reading some series of his because it had way too many elements copied from 'The Lord of the Rings'. There was a Mt. Doom, there were Rohans, evil spread and darkened the land from the East (or North, I think, in his case), there were tragically killed elves and a boat that went West into the unknown, yada, yada, yada..."

Presumably Chickensoup can't give any respect to Tolkein either, because TLotR has far too many elements copied from Germanic myth: I mean, a ring that corrupts everyone who touches it, for Chrissake! Valar/Aesir! The Hidden King brought up by non-humans! TLotR is one-third Germanic myth, one-third chivalric romance, and one-third Christian apocalypse. Skillfully blended together, it is true. But hopelessly derivative.

Good artists copy. Great artists steal.

Posted by: Brad DeLong at November 14, 2004 03:53 PM

I had a vision about GWB - He talked with a voice which helped him overcome his drinking.
He thought it was Jesus, but it actually was the other guy. Made a deal, and never had the self awareness to realize what happened.
See 'the Black Rider' musical, you'll get it.

Posted by: MobiusKlein at November 14, 2004 04:14 PM

Chickensoup, are you referring to the Fionavar Tapestry? Because that series is twenty years old now. Kay has moved on.

Posted by: Jeff Cooper at November 14, 2004 04:53 PM

Seriously now. It's all about Tigana, A Song for Arbonne, and Lions of Al-Rassan. I bought his new book The Last Light of the Sun which was good enough to read in one sitting, but not as good as those first 3.

Posted by: Mark at November 14, 2004 05:18 PM

"Good artists copy. Great artists steal."

The implication is that great artists take the original and remake it so it is wholly theirs, and that's my criticism of Kay. It isn't that he borrows, but that he does so to such an extent that it drowns out his world, his voice. When I read authors like Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, and even JK Rowling, they're so adept at conveying this other world, this fantasy, that the things they borrow fits into their story. With Kay, in the series I read, the geography and demography was LOTR. And besides ideas, he uses other author's voice and tone too. He sounds like Tolkien at times. In the Francis Crawford look-alike case, not only does the character seem similar, the fight/adventure scenes are framed the way Dorothy Dunnett does hers. My point is, while reading the books, I sometimes felt like I was reading Tolkien, and other times I felt like I was reading Dunnett. That's why I think he's weak as a writer.

Tolkien wanted to create a mythical tradition for England, and thus it's logical that he base it on Nordic mythic traditions and poetic conventions. But, it's clearly Tolkien. When reading him, I never think I'm in a Wagnerian opera.

And yes, I'm referring to the Fionavar Tapestry series. I never read anything else by Kay because I formed a negative opinion of him from reading that series. (And I read the whole thing, not just one book or one chapter.) Maybe he's improved a whole lot since then, I don't know.

Posted by: chickensoup at November 14, 2004 05:59 PM

Trust me, chickensoup. His other work is totally different. After he wrote Fionavar, he wrote Tigana, which has little Tolkien about it, and a lot more Italy.

Posted by: Mandos at November 14, 2004 06:46 PM

I've always had a vampire thing -- while most fantasy monsters just seem silly, I can almost believe that there are vampires among us. Many years ago I finished Steven King's _Salem's Lot_ at three in the morning in bed, and the choice was to walk across the room to turn the light out and have to GET BACK TO THE BED IN THE DARK, or stick my head under the pillow and go to sleep with the light on.

Stuck my head under the pillow.

Posted by: Michael Cain at November 14, 2004 06:52 PM

>My point is, while reading the books, I sometimes >felt like I was reading Tolkien, and other times I >felt like I was reading Dunnett. That's why I think >he's weak as a writer.

1. As someone's mentioned - he's moved on.

2. If anyone has a right to create works strongly reminiscient of Tolkien, it's Kay; he probably should have been credited as co-Author of _The Silmarillion_, due to his involvement in assissting Christopher Tolkien with putting together that work. His writing the _Fionavar Tapestry_ came soon thereafter, no doubt influencing.

Posted by: Kurt Montandon at November 14, 2004 09:33 PM

I just finished reading that section of the book, and I found it very moving and very touching. Not scary. As an agnostic, I admire Crispin talking back to the Manifestation.

My personal scariest experience with fiction and reality blending was watching the original 'Dawn of the Dead' movie in a mall, back when it was first released, and then having to walk all the way through the deserted mall after the movie ended late in the evening. Yes, I kept an eye out for zombies!

Posted by: VKW at November 14, 2004 09:45 PM

re: Fionavar,

Kay explicitly names it his "getting Tolkien out of my system" series. As everyone else says, he's moved on from there. His primary interest has been exploring themes in vaguely historical settings, each less fantastical than the last (until this most recent one, where magic upticked a bit.)

Speaking of _Last Light of the Sun_, I very much enjoyed it. However, it's much more explicitly philosophical-minded than his other works, as he considers what storytelling and narrative mean, which I can certainly see getting in the way of involvement with the plot. The story certainly wasn't as emotionally moving (or manipulative -- YMMV) as his other work.

Posted by: Elio Garcia at November 15, 2004 01:35 AM

Yay! Someone else reads Kay!

Of course, I love the Tapestry (it was old when I was young) and I like Tigana and the Al-Rassan stories.

But seriously folks, didn't anyone notice his characterization, adherence to logic, and his prose go down hill with recent works? Mind you, being familiar with the history of the time only makes some of Kay's alt-history stuff more wrenching to read, but surely any one with a discriminating palate can see the same flaws?

In addition, Brad, why are you reading that late at night when there is much better fiction to be reading late at night. Like McKinley’s _Sunshine_?

averts her eyes when passing Kay at the shelves at Stacey's

p.s. what is with the spamming of the content section? I thought the Internet promoted literacy, not headaches. Why are people posting randomly to forums? Don't they realize we're not reading them!!!!!

Posted by: devgirl at November 15, 2004 01:25 PM

Yay! Someone else reads Kay!

Of course, I love the Tapestry (it was old when I was young) and I like Tigana and the Al-Rassan stories.

But seriously folks, didn't anyone notice his characterization, adherence to logic, and his prose go down hill with recent works? Mind you, being familiar with the history of the time only makes some of Kay's alt-history stuff more wrenching to read, but surely any one with a discriminating palate can see the same flaws?

In addition, Brad, why are you reading that late at night when there is much better fiction to be reading late at night. Like McKinley’s _Sunshine_?

averts her eyes when passing Kay at the shelves at Stacey's

p.s. what is with the spamming of the comment section? I thought the Internet promoted literacy, not headaches. Why are people posting randomly to forums? Don't they realize we're not reading them!!!!!

Posted by: devgirl at November 15, 2004 01:26 PM

Yay! Someone else reads Kay!

Of course, I love the Tapestry (it was old when I was young) and I like Tigana and the Al-Rassan stories.

But seriously folks, didn't anyone notice his characterization, adherence to logic, and his prose go down hill with recent works? Mind you, being familiar with the history of the time only makes some of Kay's alt-history stuff more wrenching to read, but surely any one with a discriminating palate can see the same flaws?

In addition, Brad, why are you reading that late at night when there is much better fiction to be reading late at night. Like McKinley’s _Sunshine_?

averts her eyes when passing Kay at the shelves at Stacey's

p.s. what is with the spamming of the comment section? I thought the Internet promoted literacy, not headaches. Why are people posting randomly to forums? Don't they realize we're not reading them!!!!!

Posted by: devgirl at November 15, 2004 01:26 PM

I hated Fionvar, but I've loved everything else I've read by Kay. To quote Tolkien, the only thing wrong with the wonderful Sarantium novels is that they were "too short."

Posted by: Marlowe at November 15, 2004 01:59 PM

I will forever detest the Fionavar series, but I will read Tigana and give Kay another try.

Posted by: chickensoup at November 15, 2004 08:15 PM


I wouldn't say his prose has gone downhill. If you're referring specifically to _Last Light of the Sun_, the clipped sentences and relatively plainness to the language is purposeful, an attempt to convey a more unlearned and uncivilized time than any he has previously attempted to write.

The Sarantine Mosaic, though, still has all the beauty that his prose previously exhibited, though one can see that here (and in _Lions_) the prose is much more polished and controlled than in previous works. I could very well see people thinking that that's a problem, and that they'd rather have some more of the "rawer" prose (others might call it "more purple") _Tigana_ or _A Song for Arbonne_.

There's a certain divide between those who consider Fionavar Kay's best work -- which is the rawest and most emotive of anything he's written -- and those who prefer later works, where Kay's prose stylings are increasingly controlled and polished.

For my part, I like it all, but consider _Tigana_ or perhaps _Lions_ or maybe the Sarantine Mosaic my favorite. Very, very hard to decide.

Posted by: Elio Garcia at November 16, 2004 02:37 AM