Tuesday 3, May

Three things I left out the review

I'm not really satisfied with The Darkness that Comes Before review. But also not sure how to go in there and change things. There are at least three points I wanted to explain better.

1- The prose. I think Bakker writes well, a good, flowing prose that is easy and pleasant to follow. Stylistically more traditional and so more accessible than Erikson, whose style is hard to digest for some readers. The only problems I could perceive is that sometimes he "overstates" and dramatizes, sounding a bit too dramatic or forcefully "poetic" (the opposite of Glen Cook, if you need a reference). I also had a problem with the description of the battle in the first half of the book. I couldn't pinpoint the relative positions of certain elements (for example what is on this side of a river if I can't pinpoint if the river cuts north to south, or west to east) and so the action developed in a confused way that required a lot of backtracking, sometimes unsuccessfully. Nothing relevant, and this book is still a debut even if I haven't found anything that gave me the idea of writing that still needs to develop.

2- Characters. Their motivations are moved to the front and the story develops from their point of view in a way that is easy to follow and grasp. Though, there are two aspects that make characterization "unfriendly" and likely to turn off many readers. The first is that of the four main PoVs none makes an easy "access point". For access point I mean a "likeable" character that drives the narrative.

Kellhus is a super human, or non-human. He's not "evil", but he's described in a way that makes him somewhat unnerving. It's a fascinating character, but not a pleasant, comfortable one. Cnaiur, well, he's a barbarian done without compromises. He is brutal and what he does to Serwe can be considered plain rape. Not sweetened at all. So not exactly a character you're going to sympathize with. Esmenet, well, she's the best character in the whole book from my point of view. But she's also a prostitute whose role is again not exploited to make the reader pitiful and compassionate. In more than one occasion she acts in a way that the reader is going to "condemn" (but the narrative wants this). Achamian is maybe the most "safe" PoV. There are a few dark spots here and there, but they aren't underlined and so he comes off as the most sympathetic one.

The other problematic aspect of characterization is an undertone that affects all characters, but it is more evident with Achamian and Esmenet. It is this tendency of the writing to be slightly "above" the narrow PoV. I've said in the review that Bakker undoes the characters to show how they work (and in this he goes further than what other writers would find comfortable). It means that there's a space between character and reader. You aren't "in there" because the text makes you aware of a character's shortcomings. It shows them as broken toys, their mystery torn open. Sometimes reading about them make you cringe because you know what are their limits. Bakker shows you some of that "darkness" that drives them and that chains them. Both Esmenet and Achamian are prisoners of themselves and their obsessions. They are so well described and so feel real, but since everyone is trapped in delusions there's a certain claustrophobic feeling, and you see those characters not respond to the higher level of awareness that the reader has. For example you're trapped inside Esmenet's own desperation and see her plunge deeper in her misery. This, again, doesn't make a comfortable, friendly experience.

3- Themes. Religion and philosophy aren't a turn-off (just) because of their nature, but because they demand that you engage with the text and share at least a fascination for those ideas. You don't sit back and enjoy the movie passively. You have to grasp the ideas the book spins, think about them, absorb them for what they tell about you. Fantasy, as in Erikson's case, is not used by Bakker as a way to build a barrier between this and another world. It's instead a way to bring down the world to a level that is more deeply connected with the human being. We do not understand through math and science, but language. Our level of perception is the symbolic one, and Fantasy speaks on that level without any filter. It can be truer than what we perceive a real. It's a description of the world that comes from within, a better connection with ourselves. So all the religion and philosophy that Bakker brings or develops in the book is not to give the illusion of truth to a made-up world that does not exist, it's not "fictional" and distant, it's instead a mean to be significant and go deep, to what is that really moves things. But the typical reader who's a fan of the genre as "escapism", or to lose himself in the plot can be turned off by these themes and the "serious" tone. It's not easy and safe entertainment that can appeal to a wide public.

There would be also a fourth point that is problematic but that I consider quite ridiculous. It's about the names. Lots of readers have a problem with non-anglophone names, especially those that are long, with odd accents or nestled vocals: Anasûrimbor Moënghus, Cnaiür urs Skiötha, Skeaös.

I personally love Bakker's names :)

The Darkness that Comes Before - Scott R. Bakker

This is a controversial book. One that does not play safe or is written for comfort. It's a vertical climb, it is ambitious and audacious. Especially, it shrugs off everything that doesn't belong to these adjectives. After all the recent discussions about nihilism and the lack of strong, edifying moral messages in Fantasy, what's written in this book ridicules and disregards the simplicity of the framing of those passing judgements. It goes beyond. The fabric of this book is made of "delusions" and "revelations" locked together in a system with no end: a revelation only becomes set-up for a much bigger and crushing delusion. It's when one thinks of leading that he's only lead on a leash.

The basic idea is contained in the title: The Darkness that Comes Before. It's this concept that originates the locked cycle. It creates a pattern that can then be recognized in different themes. The first described in the book is an anthropological idea. Men create their belief systems, their gods. Before/after signify a position of cause/effect ("what comes before determines what comes after"). If gods are man-made, it means that men "came before". Like a tool created for a purpose, the tool comes "after", is built/created by someone. But the complexity of the world is unattainable, so men created the gods in order to frame and explain what was beyond their grasp. They created the gods and put them "before". They confused what came after (the gods they created) for what came before. This is the first way to interpret that title, the "darkness" is the unknown, the unrevealed gods that created the world and everything else.

This same pattern then "returns" in a context that is more unsettling, because it is far less impersonal as it tears down the barrier of "fantasy" that keeps these stories away, and us safe on this side. It's about every one of us: if a man is the movement of his thoughts (so the fact of being "conscious"), but what he thinks and does is not cause, but consequence of a myriad of influences, a chaotic complexity beyond his grasp, how can he be certain that his thoughts are his own? Hence the "darkness" again, coming before. Because we have only the illusion of control of ourselves, while in truth we are being moved, like puppets caught in winds. Mockery of conscience. The "delusions" are not one of possible conditions, but the true space we live. We sleep.

This is not the first book of Scott Bakker I read, but the founding idea returns even when he does not write Fantasy. It is not repetition or redundancy, but, not unlike Erikson, it becomes a study, the same idea seen always from different angles. It's the major theme Bakker writes about and it reminds me a similar obsession and desperation for the need to cling to a sense of awareness that can be found in David Foster Wallace work. Only that Bakker's revelation is that there's nothing to cling to, as we live entirely within the illusion, and there's only horror in the realization. You can't stay "aware" because you can't wake up, or see through.

Yet what drives the writing is a desire to show. To awaken. As for "Disciple of the Dog", Bakker tries to shake the reader, address him personally (metaphorically) so that the book won't leave one indifferent. It tries to reach through the page, grasp you by the throat, and pull you down in. It's not the comfortable, lulling, immersive experience of traditional Fantasy, which is why you should read this book. At 577 pages in a large font it is far more "concise" than other epic Fantasy. It is an important trait because this book is extremely focused, determined, ruthless and brutal. While the plot has an "epic" range, it doesn't sprawl at all. There's no decoration or elements that aren't strictly necessary. Worldbuilding is usually seen as a basic and important characteristic of epic fantasy, this book can stand proudly among the very best, yet basically nothing is there to add detail and flavor. Necessity drives every word.

I'd say, thematically it covers a similar space of the Malazan series. It also has a similar approach, mindset. I've even read that some readers consider Bakker a "subset" of Erikson to the point that they consider him (Bakker) superfluous to read. This is true to an extent, as I said that they have areas that overlap and do some similar things, and it's also true that Erikson has more tonal variety in his writing, plays with humor and the song is usually "richer", with more notes and ranges, a far more vibrant palette. But to me, for my preference, they stand equal. And I wouldn't do with just one or the other, meaning that reading both actually ADDS to my satisfaction. Bakker is more extreme and ruthless than Erikson, in a few cases outclasses Erikson in what Erikson does best. If one is richer and has more range, the other can thrust deeper.

That was thematically, what the books are about, how they feel, what they want to say and how (and why). Instead stylistically, meaning how they are written, Bakker is at the extreme opposite of Erikson and much closer to, say, Martin. It means that one doesn't really need to adjust to the style, which is more traditional and accessible. A good (but occasionally over-dramatic and "turgid"), flowing, descriptive (but without any redundancy) prose. In the first 100 pages only an handful of characters are introduced, and even less PoVs. You have only what is sensible of the story, and time can pass without describing every move of the characters (it's not Jordan). Beside a few occasional pages, there are five or so major PoVs that drive the narrative. The structure maybe resembles more to "The Way of Kings", meaning that these PoV don't regularly alternate, but follow more directly the need of the story, so a PoV may hang suspended for more than a hundred of pages. Thankfully without resorting to cliffhangers, so when a PoV closes it usually doesn't frustrate the reader and leave him wanting.

The structure of the plot may remind of Lord of the Rings. The wider frame of the narrative, not the content. There was a big war (the First Apocalypse) some two thousands years before the current events, only leaving the trace of a lingering legend in present times, like something remote and unreal, basically forgotten (which from this broad level can be considered a trope of the genre). Then patterns that re-emerge, hinting that something on that scale is coming again. "The Mandate" in this book fits a similar role of the "Night's Watch" in "A Game of Thrones", with the difference that Bakker thrusts deep in the mythology to drive the full impact of his themes. As the plot develops more layers are revealed and what is set into motion is obviously going to gain momentum without endless delays. What I mean is that there's a sense of being right in the heart of the whirlpool of the events, instead of edging indefinitely at the periphery, waiting for something "big" to happen as can be typical of the genre. In this first book you are already there. It's still the first of a trilogy, also letting you see where things are moving, but it didn't give me the impression of waiting for something else.

Characterization, another of those fundamental axis that one typically uses to judge these books, is the best I've seen. From my point of view Bakker has no contenders. His characters are very distinctive without losing anything of realism and plausibility. They are defined extremely well and viscerally, in a way that respects them, while also using them for the purpose of the story. There's far less "wishful thinking" than in Martin's work. Which is also a problem when it comes to accessibility and reaching out to a wide public. Martin's books have a wide appeal because there are plenty of hooks for a reader. Even if the characters are complex and not "pegged" into roles, they still exploit and rely on the sympathy/empathy of the reader. Bakker instead seems to take no prisoners and not look in the face of anyone. There are no easy and ready "access points". I said he's ruthless, and uncompromising. This means that his characters aren't done to win the reader the easy way. They are not sympathetic and in some cases even those characters that are the hinges of the book seem to spit right in the face of the reader. Another aspect of characterization to point out is that part of Bakker's style is the habit of "undoing" characters, of unfolding them. Usually writers keep a mystery and "magic" that helps the identification, as we chase after our feelings without truly grasping them. Instead Bakker disassembles some characters directly in the text, also meaning that sometimes they appear "broken", non-functional, showing the cogs inside and provoking more a sense of pity than sympathy. Maybe even shame. The book is challenging and defies who's reading. The very opposite of accommodating. You'd risk of dozing off, while Bakker wants that you wake up.

In the end this is the true value of this book. I have this contradicting habit of delaying the best stuff. I read this book after years I've bought it, left the best last. Expectations were met. For me Bakker and Erikson both are the APEX that Fantasy has to offer, and between them and all the rest there's a certain gap. Neither of them are easy to recommend and and to enjoy. Both are challenging for different reasons, and due to completely different writing style it's also possible that one could hate one but enjoy the other and vice versa. If you read this is because you want to explore or even breach a genre instead of being caged within it. You don't read this book because you're looking for more of the same. That's what it offers, something challenging and uncompromising. Something that cuts deeps and that can't leave one indifferent.

The problems are choices. There's not a trace of comedy or lighter, relaxing scene (or none that stick out). The only humor is through a harsh and cynical perspective. Abrasive and scornful. No kind, loving words, if not ones that are meant to deceive. The book is brutal, there's violence and sex, most often without any romance in both. There are no filters or censorship about what is "proper" to show and what to leave unsaid. You have to come without prejudices of any kind, or the book refuses you (metaphorically speaking). But it is important for me to underline that violence and sex in this book do not have a "pornographic" intent. They aren't artificial stratagems to be edgy and gritty, or to titillate. Or to shock and gross the easy way. They are part of the nature of the story, which you have to trust. It's not entirely grim and monotone, though. There are exceptions that are meaningful as they shine so much in the rarer occasions when sentiments are true and without hypocrisy.

EDIT: A follow-up.

Saturday 30, April

The Machine

They just showed this picture and called it "The Machine", or "The System".

Sunday 17, April

The Fantasy genre, Malazan, and postmodernism

Yeah, other than that bit it was pretty much Ulysses but with undead-dinosaurs-with-swords-for-hands and shapeshifting zombie wizards.

Quoting Bakker:

For some reason these Inrithi, who had nothing tangible to gain or to lose from one another, all spoke with their fists closed—fatuous claims, false concessions, mocking praise, flattering insults, and an endless train of satiric innuendoes.

I'm going to respond about this claim of post-modernism that has stirred more than one discussion and it is now added to the group of "satiric innuendoes" used against Erikson.

As I said myself to Erikson, discussing what is "post-modern" and what is not is already complex because there's not a strict definition of "post-modern". It's a relative term, so it's used in relationship to something else: "modern". And in a genre like Fantasy there's no established convention on what can be considered "modern", even less on what POST-modern could be. If someone has an idea of what those terms mean he should also be aware that they depend on context. So, for example, post-modern could mean the breaking of tradition as it can mean a return to it.

So, since we do not have an agreement or an established convention on what "modern" and "post-modern" mean in respect to the Fantasy genre, we can stick to the canon and see if there's something in common: Michel Focault. We can agree it's a name that represents postmodernism the most. Now, on the widest level possible, postmodernism is itself a point of view toward reality. It deals with morality and truth, and how the two mingle. It's about how men position themselves in the world, how they perceive it, how they draw meaning from it. (1)

Men and environment.

Already at this point it should be obvious to Erikson's readers how his work is closely related to the most classic idea of postmodernism. But let's continue.

Extrapolating again, I'm taking this quote from a review where the writer does some "destructuring" of Lovecraft, but the specific quote, I think, summarizes what Postmodernism is at its core:

Indeed, part of what drives Lovecraft’s characters insane is the realisation that not only the falsity of everything their believed to be true but also the truth of many things they assumed to be false. Their insanity is the product of their emotional and philosophical investment in the existence of a hard line between truth and falsity. However, from the likes of Foucault onwards, postmodern Theorists have sought to undermine this belief by stressing the social construction of our received truths.

In bold I highlighted the core idea of postmodernism: again the relative perspective (POV) of men within an environment, and the way they see "truth" and draw meaning from it.

Society is a point of view, an observation and a system of meaning (see the works of Niklas Luhmann if you want insight on this).

Erikson himself stated as much in a recent interview:

Anthropology is the study of human culture: empirical observation over generations of study seem to have established certain continuities of behaviour, best described as a society's relationship with its environment (it all goes back to environment).

There are, however, endless variations on that theme, but in context they all possess psychological consistency - even the fucked up ones, as with, say, the Aztecs). At the same time, every anthropologist knows that they can never truly understand a foreign culture, inasmuch as we all struggle to understand even our own; and that, to compound matters, cultures are in evolution (even apparently stagnant ones) and by nature protean.

Another technique that exists at the foundation of the whole series that Erikson writes is: metaphor made real.

The examples you give bring to mind the notion of imprisonment as a state of mind (Karsa); the restless past (the Forkrul Assail, Calm, and the T’lan Imass in TTH); and the injustice that can be committed upon innocent people (Trull). They’re all motifs of the human condition, I suppose. People can feel trapped in their lives (see above, metaphor made real).

Reiterate long enough the principles of "men and environment" mixed with "metaphor made real" and you'll have the whole Malazan series remade in front of you, block by block (or page by page).

It's not just a tool or device to use in a story, it is a mean to go at the symbolic core of what you are representing. What Erikson specifically writes, and what Fantasy, as a genre, represents in potential, is the symbolic power. Or: the world as seen from the human perspective. A symbolic world. Made of language and meaning.

If you study some Wittgenstein you'd know that the world does not exist outside language. And, to not lose the link to postmodernism, this is again about reality seen as a social construct. A symbolic system of meaning.

Let's move to Jung and James Hillman (I'm using only wikipedia's quotes, so you can see I'm not making them up). Read the following quote while considering Erikson's "metaphor made real".

According to Hillman, “polytheistic psychology can give sacred differentiation to our psychic turmoil.…” Hillman states that

"The power of myth, its reality, resides precisely in its power to seize and influence psychic life. The Greeks knew this so well, and so they had no depth psychology and psychopathology such as we have. They had myths."

[...]

They studied how the hierarchy of ancient gods, polytheistic religions, and archetypal ideas found in tales might influence modern life with regard to soul, psyche, dreams and the Self.

Aristotle described an archetype as an original from which derivatives or fragments can be taken. In Jung's psychology an archetype is an inherited pattern of thought or symbolic imagery derived from the past collective experience and present in the individual unconscious.

Malazan's pantheon of gods is a "metaphor made real". That relationship, between men and deities, is the "true" theme of the series. The message buried within. Gods are a manifestation of systems of meaning.

See Niklas Luhmann:

Furthermore, each system has a distinctive identity that is constantly reproduced in its communication and depends on what is considered meaningful and what is not. If a system fails to maintain that identity, it ceases to exist as a system and dissolves back into the environment it emerged from. Luhmann called this process of reproduction from elements previously filtered from an over-complex environment autopoiesis (literally: self-creation), using a term coined in cognitive biology by Chilean thinkers Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela.

This should remind you of the cycles within the Malazan world, how the gods disappear or are replaced in cycles, how they transform.

Janny Wurts, in regard to the Fantasy genre, says:

Imagination, creativity, pretending, all those things rely on projecting ideas that do not exist, yet. No change can occur, no inspired solution can happen, if no mind dares to frame the bold questions. Fantasy throws us out of the box of all that we know, and think we possess. I prefer the label, Myth, to view the activity of imaginative storytelling.

Everything anyone says or writes attaches to their beliefs. Beliefs, by their nature are limitation in action. Fantasy challenges those boundaries. It doesn’t matter if one reads to “escape” the rigidity of current possibility, or to relieve stress, or to indulge in a freedom of thought unavailable in the embodied moment. Never to step out of ourselves is to condemn the human spirit to stagnation. The whole philosophy of “adult maturity” that insists that we “come down to earth” and “put our feet on the ground” excludes the magic of exploring ideas.

For those who are threatened, or feel the ridiculous need to play the exclusion game, using labels – they can keep on blindly fumbling to pin the tail on the donkey, while the rest of us walk right past, go straight for the good stuff, and claim the prize at the edge of the envelope. Groups evolve to foster security, and pack mindset security NEVER innovated anything, but only drew lines to perpetuate boundaries, and stay in the flock.

Fantasy allows discussion of sensitive topics with the gloves off.

The heart of the issue is that Fantasy allows us to "experience" a story from a level we can relate to. A linguistic, symbolic level of myth that is truly human. It's not a factual description of the world (the world is in truth unattainable, because our minds aren't made to perceive complexity, but only to reduce it).

Bakker:

What makes Epic Fantasy so fascinating, so culturally significant, and, yes, so pregnant with literary potential is the way it out and out violates all the norms of literary content–the way it’s self-consciously premodern. It provides wish-fulfilment characters, morals, settings, as well as action. And–most importantly–it’s immensely popular among baseline readers. Small wonder so many literati consider it the very antithesis of the ‘literary.’

And yet, in a very real way, it is the genre that best exemplifies who we are. Why? Because it maps the worlds that complement our souls (rather than mapping, ad nauseam, worlds that deny our souls). It says who we are in a way that ‘modern literature’ simply is not capable, given its prohibitions on content. And it says it, most importantly, to heterogenous audiences.

Why in the world would anyone want to abandon such a vehicle to the apologists? What kind of healthy literary culture could do such a thing?

"Fantasy" is how we see the world from a point of view that is within us.

Quoting Bakker again:

the ego is but one psychological fantasy within an assemblage of fantasies.

We are made of that symbolic, mythological level whether we are (or want to be) aware of it or not. So "Fantasy" allows to deal with it directly, with the "gloves off", or through "metaphors made real".

Take another signature idea of the Malazan series: the T'lan Imass. What defines them? They are undead and immortal, yes, but another core idea is that they share one mind, the ritual made all them connected and linked together. See this:

Collective consciousness was a term coined by the French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) to refer to the shared beliefs and moral attitudes which operate as a unifying force within society.

Durkheim argued that in traditional/primitive societies (those based around clan, family or tribal relationships) totemic religion played an important role in uniting members through the creation of a common consciousness,

Metaphor made real.

And you can see that rule being repeated, for example in the T'lan Imass sense of humor. They are one mind. Single-minded. If you read the books you'll know how Erikson plays with this. Not only the T'lan have only one mission (kill all Jaghut), but the "arrogance" is born of "certainty". They have no doubt. And in having no doubts they also can appear as quite stupid, which triggers the sense of humor in certain scenes though the book.

Erikson plays with those levels. The "seriousness" and drama of the T'lan, as well as the comical absurdity (Toc calls them "laconic dessication on two legs").

And what are the Jaghut if not another metaphor made real? Ice. Absence of movement. Time that stops. Absence of life. And then also opposite forces of nature in a war.

We use to think that Fantasy = the past, and Sci-Fi = the future. But the point here is that the Fantasy Erikson writes is not "before" or "after", it's above time. It's, if you want, the Platonic level of ideas. It describes the human condition OUTSIDE TIME. As in: always valid because archetypal true. we can't escape it as we can't escape mortality or the adversity of the world outside.

The point is entirely symbolic, the meaning universal. And in general the Fantasy genre "enables", if you want, to deal directly with myth. Myth seen from the perspective of human creation of meaning and morality. The world reduced to the human level. The war with the environment.

Bakker:

"Some say men continually war against circumstances, but I say they perpetually flee. What are the works of men if not a momentary respite, a hiding place soon to be discovered by catastrophe? Life is endless flight before the hunter we call the world."

Men and environment. Men and truth. Men and meaning. A war made of pain.

So there are two levels that I'd recognize as postmodern in the Malazan series. The first is about the universality of the message, its being removed from a time, made symbol of. The second is about dealing with the "social construction of truth", or the relationship of men and environment, seen from the perspective if its (human) symbolic value. It's a description of the world from within (what Bakker calls worlds that complement our souls).

The other day I was watching on TV a dialogue between a movie director, a painter and a philosopher. At some point they started to discuss how their works were received by the public. All three agreed that their best and deepest works were not understood or not as well recognized as their most superficial ones. They said that the public will always pursue the shortest path. The least resistance. They glide over. If a story has more than one layer of meaning, the great majority will stop at the first level and go as far as refusing the existence of more layers. The majority approach a work with the certainty of their superiority. People look at the surface and will judge on what they see there.

Erikson is in a problematic position because his series unashamedly embraces its RPG origins and Fantasy tropes. It's blatantly a work of Fantasy, as opposed to other writers who step on the edge and are too scared to be lumped in the ignoble, low genre. On the other side Erikson also pushes Fantasy outside the "escapism". All the things I've written above are a fundamental part of the text as the sorcery conflagrations and flying mountains.

That position is problematic for the audience, because from a side the "literary" guys will look down and downright refusing to read something that has fireballs and dragons, while the other side doesn't want to read all the boring philosophical drivel and "padding" that distracts from the awesome, over-the-top battles.

The privileged ones, and I feel one, are those who can appreciate, without prejudices or mental fences, the freedom and power of the mix of "high" and "low". For sure I don't consider Fantasy as a "guilty pleasure". I'm very proud of reading it.

So let's have a discussion, if you want, about whether Malazan can be truly defined postmodern or not. But in order to join this kind of conversation you have to drop a lot of prejudices and snobbism, so to recognize themes that are indeed there for a specific reason and not to pad the text.

As Janny Wurts said: "The genre label is just the current convenient excuse for dismissal."

“It is said the stars are without number, and are in eternal motion,
and that the heavens forbid all comprehension. It is said that
the universe breathes as would a bellows, and that we are now
riding an exhalation of a god immeasurably vast. And when all
these things are said, I am invited to surrender to the immensity
of the unknowable.

“To this I do rail. If I am to be a mote lost in the abyss, then
that mote is my world. My universe. And all the great forces
beyond my reach invite neither despair nor ennui. In what I
am able to measure — this is the realm of my virtues, and here is
where I must find my reward.

But if you would mock my struggle, crowd not close. The
universe is without measure and the stars are without number.
And if I invite you to explore, take no offence. Be sure that I
will spare you a parting wave as you vanish into the distance,
never to be seen again.”

Literary snobbism

Martin:

((Okay, I will confess, it does cheese me when I come across a reviewer who simply hates all fantasy. I had hoped that kind of literary snobbism was extinct, or nearly so. Maybe not.))

No, it's not extinct, it's rampant.

Even worse there's plenty of it even WITHIN the Fantasy fandom.

I saw a fan calling Fantasy a "guilty pleasure". And that's from someone who's this side of the fence of prejudice.

Friday 8, April

Life is

This is for me one of the most beautiful passages in Bakker's "The Darkness that Comes Before".

It is so accurate, and resonates on many levels. That last line seals it:

"Some say men continually war against circumstances, but I say they perpetually flee. What are the works of men if not a momentary respite, a hiding place soon to be discovered by catastrophe? Life is endless flight before the hunter we call the world."

Saturday 2, April

Janny Wurts

Quotes that remind me something else, or another writer:

packed with unpredictability; a deepening of understanding, both of the characters and the world; reverses that will change your assumptions

each volume peels off another layer, and shifts the angle of view to deepen the perspective and heighten the viewpoint.

the revelatory moment, when you are given the fresh angle that rearranges all the markers

What you presumed was not what is actual

opens up a whole vista – there all along, if you could have perceived, or understood it

I’ve striven to create something “epic” – where a shift in view remakes the whole

I’m eager to bring this massive undertaking to the finish I’ve envisioned at the outset.

Friday 1, April

Deconstruction of Lovecraft

Pointing out this review of the Cyclonopedia.

Not a Battlestar Galactica sourcebook but a pseudoscience book that mixes all sort of absurd ideas. Something that usually gets my curiosity but in this case there's nothing that seems really serious or reaching for an actual truth.

More about mystification than struggling to look under the surface.

But it's not the review of book itself that got my attention here, it's the deconstruction of Lovecraft. This in particular:

One of the more common plot devices to feature in the works of Lovecraft is an explosive confrontation between the world-as-humans-understand-it and the world-as-it-really-is (i.e. how it is understood by the Cthuloid entities and their various agents). This confrontation generally involves some white middle-class academic having his world shaken to the core by the realisation that some books of ancient lore and the ravings of some natives actually contain a good deal more truth than the myths concocted by him and members of his intellectual community. The Ur-text for Lovecraft’s intellectual inversion is the fictional grimoire known as the Necronomicon.

[...]

Indeed, part of what drives Lovecraft’s characters insane is the realisation that not only the falsity of everything their believed to be true but also the truth of many things they assumed to be false. Their insanity is the product of their emotional and philosophical investment in the existence of a hard line between truth and falsity. However, from the likes of Foucault onwards, postmodern Theorists have sought to undermine this belief by stressing the social construction of our received truths.

Thursday 31, March

How not to do a book cover

Everything in this cover is done wrong:

- Bauchelain (the one in the center) is described in the book as a lean, angular guy. Like someone you'd find in a library, and not like a bulky warrior. This one was more fitting but it looks like he put on weight.

- It's not an easy book to sell, this one. It's even worse when the cover gives bad expectations. Nothing in the cover refers to something in this book. The green hue isn't even close to the kind of tone the story could have.

- The forest makes no sense. As far as I remember there are no trees in all the book, and for the most part they move through a barren land/desert.

- What's written under the title is unacceptably misleading. This story has no connection whatsoever with the "Malazan Empire". It's so wrong that it's not acceptable even as a vague cover blurb. It's just completely false.

- I really dislike this new habit of using real pictures or 3D art for fantasy books. There are so many valid illustrators out there. Use them.

In general, it's very bad when your publisher has no idea of what he's publishing.

Tuesday 22, March

Erikson's Midnight Tides and Bakker's Darkness That Comes Before

Some redundancy in this post, but I'm at it.

In a forum discussion I suggested to someone who couldn't suffer Erikson writing style to instead try reading Bakker. There's a reason for this. I believe that both have a similar approach to certain themes. Yet, they do it on the page in a completely different style and someone who can't digest one may have a good chance of enjoying the other.

I know that either writer would cringe if aware I'm drawing parallels, but I do this not to put them on a ladder of quality, but to try to underline qualitative differences.

It can be absurd to think I see Erikson series doing certain similar things to Bakker's Prince of Nothing, so I'm giving one example of what I see.

Specifically in the titles of the books, and their theme. Midnight Tides and The Darkness That Comes Before.

“The Dünyain,” Kellhus said after a time, “have surrendered themselves to the Logos, to what you would call reason and intellect. We seek absolute awareness, the self-moving thought. The thoughts of all men arise from the darkness. If you are the movement of your soul, and the cause of that movement precedes you, then how could you ever call your thoughts your own? How could you be anything other than a slave to the darkness that comes before?

There are tides beneath every tide
And the surface of water
Holds no weight

-Tiste Edur saying