Submitted by Abalieno on November 5, 2010 - 09:29.
I was writing in a forum and trying to figure out if there's a simple way to summarize how characterization works in the Malazan series. It's one aspect that is also criticized and matter of debate and so I think it's all about the reader and his personal reaction to a different style. For some it works, for others it doesn't.
One problem is that for books that are part of a specific genre readers come with very specific expectations, and so it's not easy to make them accept different canons and structures, they will judge a book by comparing it to other books in the genre that are considered absolute points of reference. The quality of a book is then relative to its performance on those canons. Malazan has an ever harder time because its differences start already with the style of the writing. So it depends entirely on whether or not this style works for a certain reader or if instead one gets "bounced back".
"Characterization" is one of those aspects where "innovation" or change or originality of approach isn't usually welcome. A classic kind of characterization works well and achieves a lot of important functions. Most successful books, even if much different, have similar approaches to characterization. They can do it better or worse, but usually they follow similar structures. This is instead one aspect that Erikson does in a completely different way (or in a way that represents a minority).
In the Malazan series things aren't driven by characters, but by scenes. Often scenes are linked thematically, and different characters relate to the same theme in their own different way. In most other fantasy, putting in the same group Tolkien, Martin and Jordan to quote three of the most visible, characters are established before plot. In Tolkien we get to know the Hobbits well before the story and the journey picks up. There's the whole birthday scene, but also lots of "infodumps" about the quirky habits of the Hobbit and all the different families. Characters and story are well contextualized before they are set in movement. Jordan follows the structure closely, sets up the countryside village, its inhabitants and what will become main characters. You have a nice bucolic scene set up, including fundamental characterization, before things start to happen. Things are again properly and carefully contextualized so that the reader acquires a certain familiarity with them before "changes" arrive. Martin, even if completely different from both Jordan and Tolkien, also starts by contextualizing. Bran's first chapter is a well written introduction to the whole Stark family, and before the chapter closes the reader will be already familiar with all the most important traits and characters that define the Starks. Here the plot moves already as part of the contextualization, but it's all again measured on the reader. Even with the following chapters characters are introduced in a way that lets the reader develop familiarity, and things only move after the reader got hold of them.
As I said, this is the aspect that most sets Erikson's writing style apart from most of everything else. It's not much that the first book starts in "medias res", or in a point in time that is already quite complicate. That's a detail. The real difference is that no characters are contextualized as a deliberate choice. In Erikson's books no character is closely followed, no character is carefully presented before the plot gets moving. We get scenes. Characters are part of scenes and they get swapped depending on the scene. We get glimpses of characterization, because even when there's direct introspection it's always closely related to the theme in that scene. We see specific characterization and reactions. We get flashes. What we do not get is the fully disclosed character that the reader familiarizes with and knows so well to consider like a close friend. This never happen. All characters, even those who appear more often and that are minutely developed, keep obscure aspects about their lives and thoughts. There is no spotlight that clears all shadows and offers a special status of clarity. This is immediately evident from the beginning of Gardens of the Moon, where Paran, in the scene where he goes in Gerrom to find out what happened with the missing girl and her father, even with direct introspection we only get hints, glimpses and suspicions about what Paran is thinking. There is no omniscient light poured into a character.
All this is not the result of a lack of strong characterization, even compared to books praised for it, it's just a matter of different style. Characters in the Malazan series develop in the longer term, the more those slices of characterization build up to something more cohesive. The facets we see have plenty of depths, character never develop predictably and Erikson's habit is about breaking patterns and expectations. Malazan has plenty of originality and depth, but it is nuanced and only comes out on a emergent level. It's not straightforward and clear, it takes effort from the reader to put together the pieces of characterization. As is the case with everything else that makes this series.
Agreeing or not on the merit of characterization in the Malazan series, I think it's still obvious to say that characters only relate to the specific scene and nothing else, and that this is a constant for the whole series and all characters involved. There's a neutrality of approach that in the end delivers something powerfully authentic. Which is as far as you can go in the matter of characterization.
Submitted by Abalieno on October 30, 2010 - 14:52.
Lot's of things I'm following off the blog. A number of Q&A sessions with Erikson and now Esslemont too on Tor.com and also the usual weekly re-reads.
Today I received from the bookdepository a copy of "The Bonehuters", American Tor mass market freshly reprinted with the new cover (UK version). This is at the moment the best mass market format, slightly smaller than UK MM and looking more solid & flexible. The interior (font, pagination) is exactly the same of the UK version (so a very good thing). At the moment only this and Midnight Tides are available in shops in this updated style (plus Dust of Dreams when it comes out next month), so I asked Irene Gallo (Tor art director) if they were going to release the books in a consistent style. Here is her reply:
We are trying to standardize the series as the older books run out of stock and we need to reprint. Unfortunately that doesn't always happen in series order.
It will take a while I guess.
I'm a bit torn about what is going to be my reading copy since I love both this updated MM but also the "UK book club" hardcover edition that is much smaller than classic hardcover. But in the meantime I should deal with The Way of Kings and The Darkness that Comes Before :)
Submitted by Abalieno on October 24, 2010 - 11:26.
After Disciple of the Dog I gave reading priority to The Way of Kings so that I can vary the tone before I continue with Bakker's first fantasy book. It will take a while even if Sanderson's book reads quickly.
In the last couple of days I'm also reading some comics. I was a dedicated comics reader when Claremont was hot on the X-Men (so almost 20 years ago, heh, the cover here is one of the first issues I read) and I used to read pretty much everything, also because in Italy comics are published in bundles of 3 or 5 in one issue, so it's easier to cover everything. Then I stopped for a number of years and came back when Marvel decided to go back to fancy crossovers, with Avengers Disassembled. That was in 2004.
I still think that since Avenger Disassembled Marvel produced the very best stuff ever. Fuck the golden age. There is one grand plot that waved together all stories and all series for years. It's simply awesome but you can only appreciate this if you really read everything published and get the Big Picture. Lots of the consequences and story directions also seem a reaction to the reign of Grant Morrison on the mutant series that lasted about three years. Morrison is one of my favorite writers in comics but I also like a lot everything that happens afterward even if it tries to take apart and reset all that Morrison did before. These big cycles of construction and then dismantling are what defines the Marvel universe at the core.
With Avengers Disassembled all Marvel series started to converge. That first crossover was actually just a big test in order to oil the cogs and practice. Lots of growing pains, stories that made no sense, but it got things definitely moving. It was basically about the story of Scarlet going nut and risking to take apart everything. It ended with Magneto coming from the sky and taking Scarlet away with him. It was all just in preparation for House of M, a proper crossover that started the year after. In the meanwhile a lot of preparatory work continued, including Claremont writing a rather bad series but that at least was doing a lot of laundry work and start to put all the pieces together. That's the destiny of Claremont in (relatively) recent years. He passes a year carefully building, then a crossover comes and sweeps away everything he had done, and then he starts meticulously rebuilding again from scratch. While guys such as Bendis or Millar write great one-shot stories and cycles, with lots of immediate punch and fun value (and little care about who comes after and has to put things back together, they just blow up stuff in spectacular ways), Claremont instead builds things slowly and long term. Sadly it seems the market doesn't allow that anymore.
Anyway, big sweeping plot that builds up to House of M, a well written crossover that has a great ending since it brings consequences for the whole Marvel universe. It doesn't just end, but props up nicely all things to come. The mutant series get a number of separate storylines and miniseries that are well coordinated in a big story and written really well. The more all this goes on, the more all series start to work better in the unitarian context and Big Sweeping Story. Which all leads to Civil War, probably the best handled and biggest crossover Marvel ever realized considering all its consequences and deep impact on all series. That's more or less where I stopped reading even if it was the highest point.
One huge story that goes from 2004 to 2007. After Civil War there was the Hulk Crossover and then Bendis continues his own reign. I lost track of things so I don't know where are things now, but I got the impression that even this cycle passed and we're back giving each writer autonomy and detach single series from big sweeping events that require everyone to adapt.
These days instead I'm catching up from the mutant side. I wanted to read just the latest mutant crossover, but then I discover that it's the final part of a trilogy of crossovers: Massiah Complex, Messiah War, Second Coming. So I go to the first but I discover that it has a prelude crossover: Endangered species. So I go to this one and it makes no sense because it continues some previous story about the Summers (which was connected to the bigger consequence of Scarlet's actions at the end of House of M). So I look up that story as well and I find out I'm exactly in the place where I left. And there's Claremont (Uncanny X-Men #466). It's January 2006, so events that start with Avengers Disassembled in 2004 and end up in Summer 2010. Quite a nice story arc :)
Comics definitely need renovation, but I don't think it's in the renewals and resets. Marvel stayed actual because it tacked mature themes and made super hero comics approach things more realistically. It acquired a lot of depth. A product of modernity: they continued to say things that are actual today. Even social commentary. I think all writers did a wonderful work these years. I miss the meticulous builders like Claremont, but in the end even Bendis built on his own the premises of all he realized today (starting with Alias and Devil, that was between 2001 and 2004, so you can see how things went on for a whole decade). And all this also had very positive impact because even DC got better even if it stays more faithful to the trope of the super-hero and super stories more shielded from modernity and reality.
20 years later and I still enjoy reading comics when I have the opportunity.
Submitted by Abalieno on October 11, 2010 - 06:01.
The pain with this book more than reading it is trying to write a review. How to frame it? It left me reeling for sure. There are a number of ideas explored that seemed to echo with some my own thoughts pre-existing the book, this further reflected toward the end of the book by a strong in and out of text deja-vu whose implications are far too tangled for me to make any sense of them (I should also try to second-guess some that Bakker did, that would bring a whole new level of complication). Just to say: the book messed a bit with my head. But that was almost expected, knowing well the kind of writer. The blending in and out of character, in and out of the book, and between facets of different characters echoing each other is a prevalent defining trait.
I'll try to introduce things. This is a lean book, 249 pages, written in first-person by a private detective that at once fills the canon and pushes it beyond extreme. Bakker is the kind of writer that when sees a boundary pushes down on the accelerator. What's absolutely banished and tabu is any idea of moderation or compromise. But in the beginning we have the broke and cynical private detective with his filthy office next a filthy road, who fucks his secretary and is a smartass all around. Very anti-hero. Very pulpy, very effective in positioning itself in a category easily recognizable. The story in the book will be about investigating the case of a missing attractive young woman that was caught in a religious cult of weirdos who think the world is about to end and that everyone of us is only playing a role on the stage of a fake theater. All Matrix-like (including the technology, but don't focus on this distracting element). The catchphrase supposed to sell the book is: "Imagine being able to remember everything you've ever experienced." That's the peculiarity of our detective but, voided of its implications, only sounds as quirky and not all that potentially intriguing. I'm sure the cult's belief is much more seductive for the occasional reader.
Coming from this perspective the core of the book is in how the two aspects feed and become mirrors of each other. We have different layers that repeat the same idea, we have parts of the books that repeat, we have characters that repeat, and we have "repeat" as an concept thoroughly developed. Having a "perfect" memory here isn't the meta-device for the unreliable narrator, its implications are much more far reaching and pervasive. It messes with reality, it lifts a veil, it reveals what one won't be able to endure and adapt to. It's a door. Once you pass through the threshold there's no way of coming back. It's THE enlightenment:
"Psycho? What do you think happens when God - the God Almighty - lands in your brain? You think you stay sane? Read your Bible, bitch. All his vessels crack. All of 'em!"
Only that is one, of the many, false trails. One twisted mirror. A hint of truth dressed as the blatant lie. It puts in the seed of suspicion and lets it soak. This books actively manipulates you, and it does it blatantly as more subtly at the same time, without you noticing it. One consequence of having a perfect memory, the one that is the most representative of its unsettling potency, is about the perception of "people", as I already described it:
We, "normal people", perceive expressions and attitudes of others like something transitory, while the people themselves are real and come first. But for him, his perfect memory makes him recognize the same expressions and attitudes across different people, to the point that it's those expressions that he recognizes and categorizes, while the people themselves become transitory. People that appear as collections of deja-vus and known patterns. People that repeat. Masks. Oblivious actors playing a role, rehashing over and over.
The perfect memory is a bug in the system. An error. A joke the nature played on him. Birth defect. As a human he simply does not function correctly. But what if this condition reveals a truth that wasn't supposed to be disclosed? What if this truth is too painful to endure? What happens if you lift the veil of reality and watch in horror what's beyond? What if there's no way to pull it back down and pretend you haven't seen anything? "All his vessels crack."
Bakker is more known as a fantasy writer. "The Prince of Nothing" series I've recently started to read. Facing Disciple Manning, the cynical detective of this book, is the same as facing Kellhus, the prophet from The Prince of Nothing. In the prologue of that book Kellhus meets Leweth, a guy living a solitary life in a forest. In the short time they pass together Kellhus "lifts the veil" on Leweth's life and makes him realize that his life was all built on lies he fabricated by and for himself. With that realization comes the death.
Ignore the Merge sign long enough, and sooner or later somebody gets killed.
Truth destroys, it doesn't heal. Breaks you. Forgetting is healing. Even the idea that "truth" is desirable is a conceit, a lie we tell ourselves. The point is: we are hardwired to be stupid, to be hypocrite. Hypocrisy implies a certain amount of forgetfulness. To forget all those things that can't be manipulated to our own advantage. The brain shields from truth, it has safety triggers so that we can lead a functional life. Truth instead has the power to "dislodge". The insight you gain is dangerous and may well destroy you. Once it's done there's no Matrix-like blue pill that can save you. You stop working the way you're supposed to, think out of the frame and you're doomed. You bit the apple from the Tree of Knowledge: God hates you. (Hint: David Foster Wallace didn't survive himself, Hal in Infinite Jest freaks out once he becomes too aware and can't sort things anymore. People break all the time when they start seeing too much. Insomnia is the state of the mind when it works too well for its own sake.) Living with a perfect memory corresponds to see the horror, without pause. Every instant. You can't filter, sort, select, reinterpret. You can't find a way out that makes life and suffering bearable. You can't find meaning, belief or excuse. There's no place to hide from yourself.
Reading this book is like having a face down directly with Kellhus. With the difference that you do not have a Leweth playing as a filter, here Kellhus/Disciple talks directly with you and his "social commentary" will stick needles in your skin. He is an ass, he is egocentric, he is arrogant:
I sit in perpetual judgment.
But it's through understanding that you see all the flaws as necessary and justified. Stepping back, it's like Bakker himself is trying to pick flaws in his reasoning, try every possible perspective to find a breach, whether through cold reasoning or through defiant irreverence and constant scorn, but the result is all the same.
"The Framers" is the name of this religious cult and their belief becomes a very slightly distorted version of what Disciple represents. They have two opposite stances, him and the cult, appear as adversaries of opinions, but soon you'll see how the two different perspectives overlap and match almost perfectly. Disciple sees people as actors and collections of deja-vu. Self-deluding machines who build their own conceits and prosper in false belief. The Framers believe that everyone is an actor with no perception of the actual "true self". The difference is merely in context and visualization. Where Disciple stops at showing the conceit without providing answers, The Framers "dress" it and contextualize: the world is about to end and we live a dream as the only way to escape.
I'm aware that Bakker's first effort out of the fantasy genre, Neuropath, was criticized because it was too much "theory" and not enough story and characters. As if reading like a textbook. What Bakker achieves in this book is about soaking the theory into something concrete and available as direct experience. You don't have to chase the writer through pindaric flights that are hard to follow, everything is grounded in the matters at hand, contextualized, practical and pragmatic. This book drops all frills and decorations, all diversions and derails, it goes straight to the point. Its strength is in the lack of hypocrisy that is built-in the narrative voice. The writing is teeth and nails, it goes for the bone. It's stripped of everything superfluous and that way it's much more effective and searing than his fantasy series. It goes to the point in the first three pages, that work like a manifesto for the rest of the book. This to say: it can't feel any more authentic and direct. It pulls no punches.
On the other side, the type of journey isn't that of typical thriller even if all the elements of typical thrillers are all present, done cleverly, and fully delivered, including a number of surprises and reversals in the last few pages (20 pages from the end one feels hanging from too many threads, but they are all wrapped up neatly, while also leaving space for thought once the book is finished). It's still heavy in introspection and the plot itself moves slowly. Most of the surprises that build the bigger block of the book are all on the very subtle side, while true surprises that bend the plot only come to enliven the finale. What drives the book and makes it so brilliant that it won't possibly bore is the "insight", the depth and incisiveness of observation, and, especially, the sense of humor that holds all of this together. A sense of humor that is obviously nailed on the character, so filled with cynicism, awful puns and shocking, outrageous commentary.
I'd say that this is one of the most, if not the most, extraordinary books I've read. Literally. Extra-ordinary. Far from whatever you may have read up to this point. You just can't find (easily?) a book like this and I can imagine it won't easily find its public. Not everyone likes to be punched right in the face. Many, and it's not a fault, read to be lulled, Bakker instead messes with you and tries everything he can and then more to shake the reader. His writing is subversive to the core, outrageous and irreverent. Filled with venom. Disciples says as much: "I'm not safe. I'm poison." And he doesn't do this as a tease, but because it's true: you're warned. This book lifts a few veils, it all depends if you really want to see what's beyond. There are risks. It isn't fun, and it's not pretty. There is also a dearth of answers.
God's greatest trick was convincing the world that belief was hard.
Submitted by Abalieno on October 9, 2010 - 23:59.
Pat received the page proofs of Stonewielder. The official release is 25 November and official page count is the same as RotCG, 720 pages. It's odd because Pat says the book is 635 pages and so there's quite a gap to fill with just map + glossary + Dramatis Personae. Someone speculated there may be an excerpt from The Crippled God, but it's unlikely as Hardcovers don't usually have excerpts of any kind. I estimate the wordcount at 250k.
Update: Pat also posted the map that goes with the book, map of the Korel subcontinent. I saved it along my collection of the other maps.
As usual the interesting part is about Pat's ongoing comments on the book:
Okay, about 100 pages into Stonewielder, so here's the first update:
Esslemont's narrative skills have improved yet again, and he seems to be finding his voice.
So Greymane and Kyle are laying low in Delanss, where Greymane opened a fighting school. But shit happens, and it seems that Greymane won't get to enjoy the perks of retirement. . .
Someone tries to enter the Deadhouse with a surprising plan in mind. . .
An ex-priest of Fener sets up shop in Banith, but soon finds out that he's disturbing the established order of things. . .
And a new character with Toblakai blood is introduced. . .
There's more, of course, but that's about it for now.
Good start. Good pace. Better writing all around. More promising than Return of the Crimson Guard at this point. . .
Now 217 pages into Stonewielder. . .
As far as the writing is concerned, it is by far Esslemont's best effort.
And now the plot thickens, with a lot of good shit ahead, or so it seems!
Just found out why the Korelri campaign fucked up and seemed to be on a standstill for so long. . .
Okay, I'm done with Book 2.
Stonewielder features a much better pace than RotCG, which makes for a more enjoyable reading experience. Not only has Esslemont's narrative improved, but so have his characterization skills. In many aspects, this one reads more and more like an Erikson Malazan book.
And though one of the principal storylines focuses on the Malazan invasion, unlike RotCG, the author doesn't feel the need to throw yet another battle scene every ten pages or so. Although this is a multilayered tale, I feel that Esslemont keeps a tighter focus on the various plotlines.
As is usually the case with a Malazan installment, this one raises way more questions than it provides answers. And the answers usually raise yet more questions.
One thing that bugs me is the timing of this one. Why the hell, when everything in the Malazan Empire is going to shit, did the new Emperor decide to renew a military campaign that went down the crapper over a decade before? Insofar as I've read, there is no hint as to what could possibly interest him in the lands of Fist to launch such an invasion. . .
The cult of the Blessed Lady is another enigma, or the Lady is in any case. Whoever she is, Goddess or Ascendant, it feels weird that we haven't heard about her by now. Even with her ancient name, I can't find anything about her. . . And given how powerful she is, I feel that more should have been hinted at. Though, to be honest, Erikson hasn't been very forthcoming about the Korel campaign in his books. The reason why being one of the most interesting secrets about Stonewielder. . .
There is more to Kyle than meets the eye, and it has nothing to do with his blade. Get used to him because, like the Crimson Guard, I have a feeling that he will be one of the star players in every ICE Malazan books.
Can't really say more without spoiling everything. And unless everything goes to shit in the last 200 pages or so, I'd say that Esslemont has a real winner here!
Submitted by Abalieno on October 2, 2010 - 03:06.
What I'm reading:
First priority goes to one of the most extraordinary books I've ever read, and it's the recently released Disciple of the Dog by Scott Bakker, the Prince of Nothing guy. Subversive to the core and makes every line one wonderfully crafted quote. Supposed to be some kind of thriller about a missing girl who belonged to a cult of weirdos who think the world was just a fake stage where everyone plays a role after having been hypnotized and forget reality (something like The Matrix). Only that this conceit is actually used to describe how the world actually IS. What we live every day. We have these two contrasting sides, one pitted against the other, that morph into scary mirrors.
The protagonist is built with the idea that he can't forget anything, the perfect memory. One interesting consequence is about his perception of "people". We, "normal people", perceive expressions and attitudes of others like something transitory, while the people themselves are real and come first. But for him, his perfect memory makes him recognize the same expressions and attitudes across different people, to the point that it's those expressions that he recognizes and categorizes, while the people themselves become transitory. People that become collections of deja-vus and known patterns. Oblivious actors.
Now down the priority list I continue to read Bakker's fantasy The Darkness that Comes Before, which is excellent but obviously much more scattered and divergent compared to the book above. And then The Way of Kings which works well if I read it after Disciple so that I can actually go to sleep more relaxed ;)
I'm also reading Proust Swann's Way. I'm italian, Proust writes in French, and I'm reading him in English. It doesn't make sense but Penguin made this edition that seems to have a very good translation and is indeed a pleasure to read. Everyone should read some Proust, it's maybe one of the most accessible among the literary writers. Very much evocative. It's not one of those things that make reading feel like work and that one usually associates with the Big Names.
Besides, there's this nice interplay between Proust and Bakker's book. Perfect memory from a side and involuntary memory from the other. One who hopes to get away from his memories for once, and the other desperately trying to seize them while they elude him. Incidentally Bakker's character is the biggest cynic ever, while Proust is the exact opposite: one who cares and is desperately searching.
Submitted by Abalieno on September 28, 2010 - 02:47.
Why the title in quotation marks? Because we're talking directly of the title itself.
There was a recent reply of Steven Erikson to some provocations of mine on Tor.com re-read. Lots of interesting topics that are relevant to the genre at large. One was about the use of "magic" in fantasy (a rather broad argument that Erikson handled brilliantly in that reply), another was about the title of the first book, "Gardens of the Moon".
This is what he said specifically:
Before I get to the matter of DEM's and all that ... now that the series is done, and now that I've already said elsewhere that Toll the Hounds provides the cipher for understanding the series, it probably does no harm to reveal what was going on in my mind during the writing of Gardens of the Moon, and how my reality (and sense of it) shaped what I wrote, and gave me the reasons for writing it the way I did.
As any beginning writer well knows, the future is filled with soaring hope and crushing despair. Yes, there are bestselling writers out there making a decent living (or even filthy rich), all happily writing full-time. But they are a minority; and most even published writers need to supplement their habit with 'real work.' So, you hope and you fear. You want but you also need to be realistic. And in the bookshops you pick up titles and read a little bit and wonder how in hell did this ever get published? Or you think, ah, here I am in good hands.
And you daydream. A lot. These days they call it visualisation. So, there we were, living on Saltspring Island, unemployed and on welfare (starving in paraidse, we still call that phase of our lives). A baby about to arrive and scant prospects on the horizon.
But I kept looking at those books in the stores, trying to work out why some ever made it into print; trying to figure out the rhyme or reason of publishing. It looked like the biggest crapshoot imaginable. Seemed to me that luck played as big a role as talent. Who you knew, that kind of thing.
Luck. I sat down to write this fantasy novel, thinking about chance and mischance. Thinking about a life in anonymity and a life that wasn't (refer if you will to Circle Breaker in the epilogue and the novel's last line). Thinking about writing a tale filled with magic, high adventure and a wild, if not insane, climax. And dreaming of getting it published and actually making a living as a writer.
Lots of dreams went into Gardens of the Moon (hence the title, too, and the invented mythos surrounding it), along with ambition. And the writing thereof became on one level a dialogue with myself (as is the entire series).
At the same time I spotted on Malazan forums a comment written by a reader that not only is coherent with what Erikson wrote there, but also drags it more to the surface:
I'm going to nod my head to the genius of the title, "Gardens of the Moon", for as perverse as it seems to name a book after a seemingly obscure reference in a single conversation, that reference encompasses a theme of enormous importance in the book and the series.
1. The story of the 'gardens of the moon', as told by Apsalar, offers the hope of future bliss. More broadly, you can read redemption or salvation for bliss.
To all those struggling in their day to day lives with the seemingly eternal problems of societies (war, injustice, tyranny) and personal existence (heartbreak, illness, hunger), any hope of future salvation and bliss is obviously of enormous appeal. Readers of later books will recognise where this idea goes. The Chained God's apparent doctrine to mortals (regardless of his actual intentions) is the story of the gardens of the moon; an offer of future bliss and release from their present sufferings.
2. Apsalar's telling of the story of the 'gardens of the moon' frames it as a kind of fairy story or children's tale or fantasy.
In other words, it requires a certain naivety or wilful self-delusion to buy into it wholly, so there's actually two opposed themes derived from it:
( a ) subservience to - or faith in - a wilful self-deception or illusion offering the hope of future bliss,
-- versus --
( b ) clearer-eyed experience (or cynicism) teaching a truer but harder reality that hope is often transient (unless you struggle to hang on to it) and bliss elusive (unless you lower your expectations of it).
And that opposition is the crux of the drama in the entire series. Most (almost all?) of the major characters in the series embody the struggle between these notions in some way, and their experiences and personal evolution are an examination of these two competing ideas. (Consider Paran's path in GotM.) That's what makes the choice of title of the first book so brilliant.
Of course, the longer someone has been around, the closer to the second category they generally fall. In terms of groups, rather than individuals, the embracing of the second ideal isn't often the result of revelation, but entropy and experience, and although groups don't encompass the free-will aspect of this idea (see note ), the important factor is that they are (largely) without the hope of reward or bliss. Think of the ennui that permeates the Tiste Andii and what led them to that (much of which only comes out in later books, admittedly), or more amusingly, Tool's often quoted ruminations about the T'lan Imass:
"Tell me, Tool, what dominates your thoughts?"
The Imass shrugged before replying, "I think of futility, Adjunct."
"Do all Imass think about futility?"
"No. Few think at all."
"Why is that?"
The Imass leaned his head to one side and regarded her, "Because Adjunct, it is futile."
 One of the more amazing notions that appears in the series is that all forms of society, even the smallest community - is a form of tyranny. From anyone else, this'd sound like pure cynicism, but from an anthropologist (as Erickson is), it is - at least in the context of the Malazan series -something to bear in mind. Now I think this idea is first spelled out, albeit in passing, in MoI (in reference to the Jaghut's self-imposed personal isolationism), although it utterly dominates some later books. What's of interest (to me, at least) is the way in which this notion of tyranny as a social force appears reflected in the two opposed themes of the 'gardens of the moon' story: a personal subservience versus a rejection of the consolations of companionship.
 Paran has given over control of his life to an ideal of service to the Adjunct (early on in GotM) - in part a wilful self-delusion; that by following rather than making his own choices he can be absolved of the myriad challenges of free will. But new friendships undermine his isolation, casting him adrift as a pawn of other powers who test him sorely, and only by finally seeking to break his subservience to them does he begin to leave behind his illusion of hope granted by unthinking service; and now has to face the nasty idea that redemption (of any kind) will not come from any self-deception, and that new forms of more freely given service to others (and other ideals) - while being more ethically true to his heart - are without (illusory) guarantees of redemption. It's the hard road - no more gardens of the moon for him... apparently.
Many other characters touch upon this idea in different ways. Compare Lorn's path with Paran's: after being tested, and tempted to leave her illusions behind, she appears to return to the path of the gardens of the moon - in action at least, but what about her heart?
Or consider Whiskeyjack, Toc the Younger, and Rallick Nom (what do they really trust in? and how have their outlooks evolved with their allegiences/friendships and experiences?).
I should also mention that this is STRONGLY related to "Disciple of the Dog" that I think I could safely define as the most extraordinary book I've read.
The enlightenment is right over there. One just has to figure out if it's desirable or not.
Submitted by Abalieno on September 26, 2010 - 00:34.
My reading priority has been revolutionized since my hardcover copy of "Disciple of the Dog", by Scott Bakker, has arrived. Almost no one is talking about this book, so I thought this flimsy and whimsy blog can serve better its purpose if I give this the priority over "The Way of Kings" (that, btw, gets much better and I'd say it's good and very readable) and also-Bakker "The Darkness that Comes Before" (that forced me to read one battle twice because it wasn't exactly clearly described, but the book is great).
The fact with "Disciple of the Dog" is that the book looks relatively plain. Being out of the fantasy genre, Bakker can't rely on his fans publicizing the book, and so the hardest part is finding an audience, gain a reputation. I would almost suggest to write some kind of introduction that would make readers consider what the book IS. Why reading this instead of a million of other books? Why now? Why this relatively unknown writer? As I said the book looks quite plain, and the cover blurb isn't particularly compelling or revealing. Basing my impressions solely on the presentation I can say that I would have never ordered this book. It just doesn't show anything "necessary" to me. If I bought it is entirely because I'm now reading the fantasy side of Bakker, loving it deeply for the style and, especially, for the intent. For the nails and teeth.
But this book doesn't need any introduction to fire the reader's interest, because the first three pages are already a wonderful manifesto of intentions. I think those three pages are enough to express the "necessity" of such a book and give the reader a motivation for reading it. I'm also surprised because it's several degrees more brilliant than what I read of the fantasy series.
Which leads me to agree with Bakker when he says he's surprised that no one seems to review the book and all promotional copies sent being completely ignored. This book can't leave one indifferent. Nor it takes a full read to deliver its punch. I think the first two chapters show polish to the extreme. Written very tightly and so that the novel gets you in just one or two pages. He knows that if he wastes time he'll lose readers, so he goes straight to the point. The first three pages are about that manifesto I've described. The second chapter gives you already plenty of clever characterization and plot that grips.
With only 25 pages read I have no idea if it works or not as a whole, but more than Disciple's voice it's Bakker's voice that one has to appreciate.
I have a similar approach to this as The Red Tree by Kiernan. I see the character as someone the writer is strongly, personally involved in. Something like autobiographical voice even if the plot isn't. Everything he says rings so true, little things he observes I also noticed, nothing directly trite or conformed.
I also moved smoothly from Disciple's voice to plot. I was in for what he was saying and the way he was saying it. Every line makes a wonderful quote for eternity. Then the plot about the missing girl came up and I was interested in it more than Disciple's own quibbles. I know from reading a bunch of review of "Neuropath" (the other non-fantasy Bakker book) that the main criticism was that the "Argument" was too detached from the level of story and character, and so that the book came out way too unbalanced. In this case Bakker's unique ideas and approach are still his trademark, but it's all functional to characters and story.
The humor is also another high point, something also immediately noticeable and working greatly. Humor that not only works spectacularly and serves the purpose when it happens (it's not just a joke thrown at random), but it's also quite pulpy and abrasive. It sets the mood really well.
Since I'm not an expert of the genre I can only draw parallels to the very few things I know. In this case Chandler and "Pulp" written by Charles Bukowski. But this comparison works surprisingly well, especially if you consider that kind of humor and the fact that this investigator writes in first person.
Pulpy, reckless and littered with epiphanic Truths.
And I love the quotes.
For some mysterious reason, maybe genetic, maybe environmental, maybe some combination of the two, I am doubtful and irreverent through and through.
A true-blue individual - that's what I am.
You would think that would make me popular, you know, home of the brave, land of the free, all that crap. But such is not the case, alas. Truth is, the only kind of individualism Americans believe in is the one that numbs the sting of name tags, or that makes a trip to the mall an exercise in self-creation. The consumer kind.
The false kind.
And who knows? Maybe that's the way it should be.
Ignore the Merge sign long enough, and sooner or later somebody gets killed.
I am what you would call a cynic.
This isn't to be confused with a skeptic. Skeptics don't believe in anything because they care too much. For them the dignity of truth is perpetually beyond the slovenly reach of humankind. We're just not qualified.
A cynic, on the other hand, doesn't believe in anything because he doesn't care enough. I mean, really, who gives a fuck?
My name is Disciple Manning.
She thinks hammering my more toxic memories into narrative form will give them some kind of psychologically redemptive meaning.
Sounds foofy, I know. I've always thought writing is just what happens when we pursue our genius for justifying our scams for its own sake.
The ad hoc decisions piled up and up and up, until I found myself stranded on a mountain not of my own making.
It's these kinds of decisions that define who we are, by and large. The small kind. The lazy kind.
And then one day you wake up, and the distance between your youthful hope and your middle-aged actuality yawns like a tiger on the wrong side of the cage. What happened?
I could tell that he recognized something in my eyes as well. Weird, all these little moments that pass between people. For most everybody, they slip into oblivion, but me, I catch them like flies.
The story they told me sounded like something cribbed from the Biography Channel. Flattering and negativity-free. You see, people always make cases. Always. Rather than simply describe things, they pitch them this way and that. So when the Bonjours said that Jennifer was a curious girl, an overachiever, and so on, they were literally offering evidence of the adequacy of their parenting skills, while at the same time saying, "She wasn't the kind of girl who ..." They wanted me to know that whatever it was that had happened to their precious daughter had precious little to do with them.
Life has a nasty habit of dishing up calamity at the punchline of a joke as well
They both looked at me in expectation - funny how some couples turn every third party into a marriage counsellor - so I held them in suspense for a thoughtful moment.
After the Bonjours left, I had sex with Kimberly in the copy room - or, as I had devilishly dubbed it, the copy-feely room.
Kimberly, you should know, had long ceased taking me seriously. One more happy consequence of banging your employees: they know what you look like naked. For whatever reason, it's hard to take naked men seriously. Personally, I blame the balls.
Submitted by Abalieno on September 22, 2010 - 08:59.
"Mock's Vane" is the object whose description opens the Prologue of Gardens of the Moon. I was briefly discussing its description on Westeros forums when I noticed that on Tor reread it was interpreted in a completely different way, without triggering any debate. So I thought it was worth elaborating here.
This is the paragraph with the description:
The stains of rust seemed to map blood seas on the black, pocked surface of Mock’s Vane. A century old, it squatted on the point of an old pike that had been bolted to the outer top of the Hold’s wall. Monstrous and misshapen, it had been cold-hammered into the form of a winged demon, teeth bared in a leering grin, and was tugged and buffeted in squealing protest with every gust of wind.
And this is Bill interpretation on Tor's site:
Hardly a cheery start, but an appropriate one. I like to think of that vane as synonymous with the Bridgeburners: their armor also rusted and stained (albeit with real blood), balancing atop a sharp point (between loyalty to the Empire and defiance towards the Empress), hammered into its current shape by a cruel forging, and buffeted by the winds of war and politics.
It makes sense but I think my interpretation is more accurate and convincing. I'm not a particularly intuitive guy and these things usually defy me, but in this case I used a rather simple framework. I took the object and divided its basic qualities. Those traits will probably qualify what the vane stands for/symbolizes.
In particular, it's the fact it's a century old that makes things clearer. What is also a century old? You just have to glance above the first line of prose:
96th Year of the Malazan Empire
As to say "a century old". It already defies the Bridgeburner interpretation as the Bridgeburners were most likely created much later.
This particular vane is then featured again in "Night of Knives", the Esslemont book. It appears twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of the book.
On its pike at Temper's side, Mock's Vane, the winged demon-shaped weathervane, shook and hummed as if caught in a steady gale. Temper frowned at the old relic; the winds were calm this evening.
Down the wall, Mock's Vane stood silent on its pike. Temper eyed it - the damn thing appeared frozen athwart the wind.
The main reason why I criticized this book in my review, is that Esslemont is like Erikson stripped of all subtlety and we see a good demonstration in those two quotes. The symbol is stripped of ambiguity and reveals its meaning all too plainly: the vane moves, without wind, at the start, and is still, even with wind, when the night is over. Why? Because its symbolic meaning is more important than it being a weathervane and so pointing the direction of the wind.
"Night of Knives" is the book with the story of the night that the Prologue of Gardens of the Moon anticipates. Mock's vane is there to represent the old empire under Kellanved. Its description and physical properties are "thematic" and analogous to that sort of empire he built. The vane is restless because a convergence is close (but the reader doesn't know this yet), in Night of Knives it moves before the convergence, then stops when the night is over. Mock's Hold, in Erikson's own words, represents a position of power and control, in this case it "observes" from above.
An old thing stirring. An emperor that comes back. A misshapen, grotesque imitation of life (movement).
There are lot of things and meanings packed there. In just a few lines. All the various meanings are directly connected with the prologue and what the prologue stands for (the "Night of Knives"). It works really well because it is coherent with everything Erikson wanted to do with that Prologue. You can accuse it of being maybe too plain and obvious, but here we got that piece interpreted in a different way, or considered by other readers as being pointless or not having any real meaning.
From a side Erikson is accused of being too obscure, and when instead symbols are more obvious then he's accused of being too plain.
One has to consider in particular how that part is approached by a reader. A first time reader doesn't know what is about to happen, doesn't know what happened to the emperor. One doesn't know the rules of Ascendancy and gods can be only considered on a level that is entirely separated from human affairs. This "disconnection" allows Erikson to do some of the most obvious foreshadowing and brilliant sleight of hand. Things are spelled so clearly and yet the readers are so masterfully deceived. The vane can only be registered as ominous foreshadowing that can't be placed yet (and that aspect was well commented by Bill). Its real meaning isn't even revealed if one reads the whole book because what happened that day is the apex of a long story involving the matters of the "old empire" and "old guard" that the reader pieces together in the longer term. It takes maybe up to House of Chains to get the whole picture.
Good foreshadowing = when some vague hint acquires a much greater import in retrospective.
And in that, Bill's interpretation is actually incorporated by the greater one. The Bridgeburners are caught in bigger situation and just one of the parties involved. That day, foreshadowed by the vane stirring, has a much bigger impact. And so, depending on the level of awareness of the different reader, it adapts its meaning.
Books | Malazan
Submitted by Abalieno on September 19, 2010 - 05:49.
I continue to like much better the old cover style. This one would be actually very nice if they only entirely removed that pointless face. There's a great cover hidden behind.
Original is on Bakker own blog.
Books | Prince of Nothing