NEW Season of the Serpent: A Study Guide
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My all time favorite novel - a masterpiece of science fiction. What more can be said about this epic novel. There's a reason why it has endured to become a cult classic. Herbert created a universe so vast, yet so familiar, his vision still echos in current events. You're immediately drawn into a futuristic world that has rejected artificial intelligence in favor of mind-expanding drugs, a society held in stagnation by waring feudal bloodlines. Unfortunately, Dune's future resembles our own, as it devolves in to a political state of ritual barbarism. Their only hope was a renegade from a deposed royal family who finds himself standing in the nexus of history. When this book entered my life in college it was truly a defining moment. Looking back, I suppose it has always been my dream to write a novel half as good as this one.

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Of course, long before I read Dune there was Star Wars, another life defining moment. In the summer of 1977 my parents took me to the Uptown theater in Washington DC for a silly little film no one expected would become iconic. Almost every kid in the country was changed that summer; we all wanted to be Jedi Knights. George Lucas single handedly introduced an entire generation to the principals of gnostic spirituality in the guise of "the Force." The Empire Strikes Back was a more nuanced film, probably the best of the series, that left us waiting three long years for a resolution to it's cliff-hanger. Unfortunately, the Jedi returned with Ewoks. There after, Lucas decided the prequels aught to be kiddie films. But the original will live on in our pre-adolescent hearts. The resemblance to Dune is no small coincidence, but I hold that Star Wars is really just Dune with training wheels attached.

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The epic mysticism of Star Wars finally came to the small screen. The special effects are now dated, the acting was occasionally stiff, but this amazing series was groundbreaking. Babylon 5 introduced us to the five-year-story-arc. It was written as a series of novels plotted for episodic television, and it worked. The show captured the mystery and microcosm of an alien-filled universe, blending it seamlessly with myth and spirituality. The plotting is a lesson in Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. Of course, die-hard fans will immediately recognize that I've borrowed a plot revelation from the Shadow War and used it in my own books. Straczynski himself acknowledged that he drew his inspiration from a Babylonian creation myth, the same mythology I reference in my own story.

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The most influential book of the twentieth century and probably the most over referenced work since the Bible. Many of us were forced to read this novel in school, and it is probably the one book that should be mandatory reading. Written at the start of the Cold War, it became a vivid condemnation of Socialism, but it's anti-totalitarian message served to keep in check any number of shadowy influences that threatened to rise up over the course of the twentieth century. It's even more relevant today in the face of a disappearing middle-class and the near total surveillance of society. Instead of the nation-state, substitute the global corporation. "Big Brother is watching you!"

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The evil all-seeing-eye is vividly depicted as the dark lord Sauron, though we never once meet him. This epic series holds second place in my imagination, right after Dune. I managed to read all three volumes, plus The Hobbit, in high school. Though I skipped past much of Tolkien's flowery description his plot kept me transfixed. Yet, what has inspired me most is the novelty of his humble, almost fragile protagonist, Frodo Baggins, the Ring Bearer. From the beginning, Paul Venturi was intended to be a cross between Paul Atredies and Frodo Baggins. And the Ring of Power was always intended to be symbolic of drugs.

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These books were a lifeline that managed to get me through high school and helped me maintain a detached perspective in an insane world. This bitting satire begins as the Earth is scheduled to be demolished for the construction of a hyperspatial bypass and then just steamrolls in to complete absurdity from there. Nothing is sacred in this intergalactic farce, least of all religion. That said, there was one small conversation in the middle of the second book recounting a twisted perspective on the whole Garden of Eden thing that clung on to me until I eventually cooked the idea into the concept of my own novel. Remember, the answer is always 42, a number that has been the source of some annoying synchronicity.

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I suppose I was always Fox Mulder. I wanted to believe. No other source single handedly put the whole UFO conspiracy business on the map of collective consciousness the way this series did. Perhaps, in some ways it trivialized it as well. We fell in love with the characters. We fell in love with the show. Unfortunately, the series suffered from an eternal and repetitive second act that never managed to find it's climax or it's resolution. (Paralleled in the endless, yet enjoyable, sexual tension between Mulder and Scully.) Yet that is the nature of the UFO controversy. There is never any proof, never any conclusions to be drawn. I suppose I took it upon myself to invent my own conclusions, to investigate, to uncover, and to expose. Much the same way the Dark Side of the Rainbow left us hanging in the middle of the film, wanting more, X-Files teased us unmercifully.

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I was ankle deep in my own novel when this controversial best seller came out. I was already familiar with some of it's historical revelations in the course of my own extra-curricular reading. Yet the success of this fast-paced, tightly edited thriller forced me to go back to my own manuscript and re-edit again and again, stripping away anything that didn't help advance the plot. More importantly, this novel proved that a novel could illuminate as well as entertain, that conspiracy could be fun as long as the central mystery was compelling enough to pull the reader along. Unfortunately, I could never manage to finish any of Brown's other works. The formula only worked for me once.

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The best of all guilty pleasures. I worship Joss Whedon's ability to tell a character-driven story, to make us alternately laugh and cry. (Though, he has a bad reputation for killing them off.) Two things that inspire me from one of the greatest television series of all time: Whedon's use of humor and metaphor. As the characters descend into darker and darker territory each week, they simply can't refrain from issuing childlike wisecracks. It's indisputably, and simultaneously, both brave and human. Yet it's his creative use of metaphor that sold me - "high school as hell," raising the series from your average teen supernatural drama to a brilliant literary game changer.

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I wasn't immediately a fan, thought I loved the style in which Rowling wrote. I tossed aside the first few as kid's books, no where near the same league as The Lord of the Rings. Fortunately, I was proven quite wrong. The series delved into such subtle complexity, darker than I imagined, more sophisticated than is given credit, a world as rich as Dune, a saga as epic as Rings, with the quirky British humor of Hitchhikers, and beloved characters as endearing as Buffy. The series is brilliant from page one to the final epilogue without ever stumbling, a truly amazing feat. I sincerely doubt I would be equal to the task, if I created such a series.

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There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.
Audre Lorde

For a creative writer possession of the "truth" is less important than emotional sincerity.
George Orwell

All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination.
Carl Jung

I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities.
Doctor Seuss

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night.
Edgar Allan Poe

Imagination has brought mankind through the dark ages to its present state of civilization. Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity.
L. Frank Baum

It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods.
H. L. Mencken

If you think of yourselves as helpless and ineffectual, it is certain that you will create a despotic government to be your master. The wise despot, therefore, maintains among his subjects a popular sense that they are helpless and ineffectual.
Frank Herbert

As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.
George Orwell

I hate it when people talk about Buffy as being campy... I hate camp, I don't enjoy dumb TV. I believe Aaron Spelling has single-handedly lowered SAT scores.
Joss Whedon

I just write what I wanted to write. I write what amuses me. It's totally for myself. I never in my wildest dreams expected this popularity.
J K Rowling