The Wheel of time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the offices at Tor Publishing. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
The wind blew in from a broken air conditioning vent near the ceiling, bringing a small snowfall of dust down with it as it came. It curved through a convoluted corridor system and out into a large cafeteria, where weary editors turned their faces into the gentle refreshing breeze and felt long hours of cigarettes and body odour flow off them and onto the people downwind. It curled through another corridor and into a large boardroom. It gently caressed a bronze plaque on one wall that read YOU DON’T HAVE TO HAVE A GIANT BEARD TO WORK HERE, BUT IT HELPS. It swept under a huge mahogany door at one end of the room, and into the main office of the Head Publisher, where it seriously disrupted his practice putting.
“Fuck it all,” the large man with a sympathy beard said gruffly. “I just don’t know what we’re going to do to boost sales of these God damned paper bricks of William Shakesbeard’s. They’ve got a huge cult following, they’re the God damn flagship of the company, but they’re just not going anywhere. In the past four books, more characters have come back to life than died, and more prophesies have been started than concluded. Main characters vanish for books at a time. Entire sub-plots are forgotten, only to be brought up three hundred pages later and settled in a paragraph. It’s a wonderful story, God knows it is, but we’ve got to shit or get off the God damned can.”
The Head Publisher, like most of the people at Tor, was American. Only one person in the sprawling building, in fact, was not American, and that was Tor’s head of Publicity and (unofficially) Commander in Chief of Raking in the Cash. This person was British, and he was an evil, slightly effeminate genius. In a film, he would likely be played by Alan Rickman, or somebody a bit less threatening. His name was Wilson Paperclip. It was a silly name for a wholly non-silly man.
At that moment, Wilson was standing on the far side of the Head Publisher’s desk, out of the way of any stray golf balls and those annoying winds one tends to get at the start of a long story. He was looking through a large folder of accounting figures and thinking about steak and kidney pie.
“The solution to this problem is quite simple,” Wilson told his employer. “We must ensure the continuing interest in the series by a fresh outlook on the characters, a new revitalisation of the plot, and an exclusive new method of audience interaction.”
“That doesn’t sound simple, Paperclip,” said the Head Publisher, retrieving his golf ball. “What sounds simple to me is publishing a new version of the whole series with re-worded glossaries, or new cover art,” he smiled dreamily. “If we did new covers, we’d not only sell more books, we could finally kill Sweet.”
Wilson Paperclip smiled thinly. “Yes, sir, we could do that … but something tells me the new glossaries and the Illustrated Companions are just delaying the inevitable decline of the series. What we really need is a way of bringing fresh blood to the environment, injecting life into the dying veins, bringing movement to stagnant water. And we do not even need to involve the author at all. This experiment can take place entirely without his knowledge, and if it is a success, we can offer him the new storyline and he can take the credit.”
“And we take 85% of the proceeds,” the Head Publisher said.
“I like it. But how are we going to do all that? A phone-in poll? A census form? It’s not like we’re wanting for suggestions, we get letters from these rabid fans every day…”
“Even better, sir. We will write to a control group of fans, preferably on the Internet.”
“Why on the Internet? Standards of literacy are much higher in the written mail…”
“I have a certain amount of … influence over matters that take place on the Internet, sir,” Wilson Paperclip smiled thinly. “You remember my business dealings with Mister Gates.”
“Well, anyway, we will approach this group of sad, lonely nerds, and offer them the opportunity of a lifetime. They will be invited to take part in a live-action roleplaying scenario, in which the storyline of the Wheel of Time books will be replayed, with them as characters. They will be transported to a … roleplaying scenario area … and we will observe their actions. Then we will record what happens. If it is a significant improvement on the original plot, we will submit it to King Beard as a possible new direction.”
“Good God! You can do that?”
“Oh yes, sir. It won’t even cost the company anything. The roleplaying scenario takes place, ah, beyond union territory, and there is no fair play and safety legislation in effect there. You might say it is a different world.”
The Head Publisher was American, so of course did not notice the smug, smarmy smile and snortly snigger as Wilson said the last sentence. “But what if these roleplayers are hurt? Could they sue?”
“No sir. And trust me, even if these people are killed, they’re Internet junkies. They will never be missed.”
The Head Publisher putted decisively. “Do it.”
Congratulations! You have been selected from a list of millions to participate in the Great Wheel of Time Adventure! Your form’s personal details and the successfully filled-in questionnaire showed us just the right blend of personality, creativity and devotion to the Wheel of Time to make it as an Adventurer. By the time you receive this acceptance letter, the process will be well under way to relocate you to the Gaming Arena. We are currently experiencing some last-minute problems, but these are minor matters we will be expecting to sort out within days.
Well done, and happy travels!
Breathless with excitement, Debs lumbered over to her computer and dialled up.
“Sweetheart? Remember you promised to wash the breakfast dishes one time this month?” the meek voice of her husband was almost drowned out by the squalling of her modem.
“Aye,” she grunted noncommittally.
“Do you want to do it today?”
“I’ll do them, then, shall I?”
“There’s just so many of them, I might need to pile them on the side table, and it’s covered with your old candy wrappers…”
“Quiet noo. I’m surfin’.”
“Ahh siid shut up,” Debs turned back to the monitor, and quickly accessed the old Monkeyhouse. She loaded the new messages – there were about eighty, since she hadn’t bothered to come online in six months. She was extremely annoyed to find that there were at least five new threads by six different people, all saying the same thing.
Off to Wheel of Time Land said Chucky and Janica’s thread.
Finally Escaping My Horrible Life said Forsaken_1’s.
Now Im fAmous said Satsujinki.
Yay!!!!! I won a contest of some sort!!!!!!!!!!! said Contro in his subject line.
Goodbye, cunts said Angus McSmashie.
“Ahh, fuck ’em,” said Debs, glaring at the screen. “They all got in too.”
In disgust, she disconnected and marked all the new messages read. As an afterthought, she deleted all her recent Emails, except for seven of them that were marked ‘urgent’, which she moved to her Pending Emails folder. It was full already, so she deleted them.
“Ach,” she said in satisfaction.