The Mask of God. I set out to write Mask based on the conflict in the Middle East. This was 1989, mind you, before bin Laden, before 911, but deep in the midst of the endless conflict over there. I wanted to sort of turn the whole "infidels" and "heathens" thing inside out, with the agnostic folk of Sevakand as the so-called infidels and a wild variety of warring Christian sects as the barbarians. This is in no way a slam at any religion; I only wanted to look at how alien people who live right down the block can be to people who refuse to make an effort to understand them. This applies to both sides.
This is an overriding theme throughout the series, but now that I've come to the fourth book, and the characters have achieved a good deal of new understanding, I find myself struck by the very strong parallels between the protagonist's dilemma and what is currently happening on the southern border of the U.S. Alarion, my young and charismatic prince, really, really doesn't want to be messiah to the "heathens" south of his own borders, all those warring tribes. On the other hand, he is a prince of Sevakand. His House claims sovereignty over those tribes, which means he is obligated not to leave things as they are. The tribes are desperate, cut off from technology and better medicines, food, luxuries, etc. that are prevalent in Sevakand.
Helping them would be the noble thing to do. But... how could you possibly assimilate hundreds of thousands of nomadic people who refuse to farm and think raiding the neighbors is fine sport? Where would you put their horse herds? What if they refuse to get along? Is it right to put his own people in danger or deprive them of necessities to accommodate the newcomers?
Tough questions, in the book and the real world.
What feeling do you get when you discover the book you're reading seems to echo the real world (especially if it's an older book?) That there is no hope of changing the human race? Or is that why we are so strongly attracted to heroes--because they routinely do? I'd like to hear your thoughts.
If you'd like to explore the world of Ariel and its interesting problems, check out the Mask of God page on my website.