Sunday 17, April

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

Who writes the best prose (what I want in a book)

Post taken out a forum discussion. Every time you like something you are branded like a "fan" who lost all objectivity, and blindness is elevated to higher status than sight.

--
If you want an idea on Erikson approach to writing you can read this article.

That's Erikson explaining his approach to writing, including an example of dialogue out of GotM that I consider very well done. You can see that as an example like one of those you provided to prove the opposite. That's for me good writing, and in the first book.

That said you can even read Adam Roberts articles on the Wheel of Time.

He almost exclusively analyzes prose and proves how dreadful it is. It's not the occasionally clunky, it's that sometimes it doesn't even make sense and there's verbiage that leads nowhere. For me the gap between Jordan and Erikson is already considerable. Jordan is one who's not rarely *praised* for his command of language and flowing prose, meant as positive qualities of his writing. Other people may clump together Erikson and Jordan as very bad, but for me there's enough a distinction to make.

Also, and I can comment on this, Erikson among fantasy writers is one who uses a rather rich language. Jordan or even Martin are easier to read for someone who's not a native speaker. The language is usually easier and requires less attention. Say, from easy to hard: Jordan - Martin - Erikson - Wolfe

Gene Wolfe is the one considered the best prose stylist among those. I can definitely recognize that. But the bravura comes with its flaws. I've said in the past that Wolfe can sometimes say a very simple concept in a very complicate and ornate way. In my book that's not a "talent". In what I read I enjoy complexity, but complexity that is not there for its own sake.

DF Wallace is one writer whose prose is incredibly convoluted and layered. He knows this.

But the complexity to be found there is one of value. The content is DEEPER than the surface. That's what I want from a book. Not something that lulls and dulls me, nor something that complicates without a reason.

Which brings me to Scott Bakker. This is a writer that to an extent I like even *more* that Erikson. He's also the one who's usually considered a better "writer" than Erikson by those who have read them (including the previous page of the thread).

Well, the aspect I like in Erikson MORE than Bakker is language. Bakker's prose is flowing smoothly, well written and sometimes poetic even. But it's straightforward and, to an extent, simple. It has no shadows or undertones. The complexity in Bakker's work is in the concepts that rise from the page and the characters. The language is simple and usually undemanding. It does one thing.

What instead I like specifically in Erikson, and like above all writers in the genre and often outside it (DF Wallace is a case I put above), is that Erikson's prose is often densely layered. It needs to be interpreted and read on different levels and from different points of view. It does more than one thing, and sometimes hidden from the immediate attention.

Wallace and Erikson don't write with a similar style, but I see a specific similarity in this layering of prose and complexity that is hidden in the text (in plain sight for me). Wallace opens universes with his writing. Is infinitely complex and gives me the impression I'm "falling in". It opens the mind. I like Wallace because the prose is not complex for complexity's sake, but because it opens up to meaning within.

Erikson has some of that layering and complexity. Scenes that you read "echo" with scenes coming before and sometimes across books. There's resonance and there's use of a number of key words that return and bring significance. The way Erikson writes the single scenes and structures whole books is similar to the idea Wallace uses of "refracted light". A ray of light (meaning), that is refracted through scenes and characters. Every time it brings along what it was, and says something anew.

That's the complexity I like, and that's why I enjoy Erikson not just for what he writes, but HOW he writes it. It can take some time to adjust to the style and discover those qualities. They are there for me, I'm sorry if you don't see or don't want to see it.

Erikson on "writing":

Find out what you want to write about. Choose key words and stack them in your head, leaving them to do a slow-burn through the writing of your story. Don’t look at the light, don’t fan the flames, don’t flinch when they burn. Write around the fire, circling, ever circling, working to edge closer as the story progresses. Drive for the moment when you get singed, scorched. Then pull back, smarting. Study the red welt. Good enough? If it hurts like hell … probably good enough.
Heal. Start again.

It's not that Erikson put a spell of me and made me a brainless fan who lost all awareness and objectivity. It's simply that I recognize those qualities in what I read. And it is rather presumptuous to state that NO, those qualities do not exist and I'm the one who's blind.

I see stuff, you don't. I'd say you are the one more indicate to have some doubts.

Friday 18, March

Those who are discriminated, discriminate

This article represents EXACTLY what's wrong, specifically nowadays about all genre discussions.

The most important TRUTH is how those who suffer discrimination have no restraint about becoming the discriminators without having the perception that they are moving through the same patterns.

The same patterns. There's just repetition done by different subjects.

So Fantasy books, how they get discriminated by "serious" literature. Prejudices and everything.

But this kind of compartmentalization and affiliation is a pattern that always repeats. It is the constant across all forms of culture and all human categories. And the debate itself is ALWAYS an endless and pointless repetition. A pattern itself. It's Internet redundant ceremony. A kind of meme itself that builds identity and gratifies those people who belong to the group.

Bakker: “Apologize for the in-group status quo.”

Basically people discriminate as a form of defense from discrimination. Us versus them. You are assailed and so answer in kind (while bathing in hypocrisy).

Hence, the "literary" branch of Fantasy builds its own self-praising group putting on the altar the China Mieville, Catherynne M Valente, Gene Wolfe. As indication of names and books that are "better" than Fantasy and because only those names have the courage of dealing with "truth" and adult literature.

The rest, as it is well known, is for kids.

Erikson: "the critics invariably practise exceptionalism: these writers are not fine representatives of their genre; by virtue of their fineness, they have left the genre." (source)

Specifically about Truth, I gather three quotes:

Adam Roberts: Flattering the readers’ preconceptions and prejudices isn’t the same thing as telling them the truth. (source)
Glen Cook: You just write stuff the way it is instead wishful thinking. (source)
Steven Erikson: They wrote how they want it to be, not how it is. (source)

Monday 7, March

Caitlin R. Kiernan on "writing"

Just saw this. It is relevant.

Utter chaos and panic today. Three looming deadlines. Fear I'll break the novel. Fear of word limits. Fear I won't have the collection edited in time. Fear of other looming deadlines, editors, agents, readers. Insomnia. Exhaustion. Fear. Panic. Rage. Money fear. Isolation.

If anyone wants this shitty job, I'm selling cheap.

Wednesday 23, February

Doubt versus Certainty

Three disparate quotes. First from a recent article by Steven Erikson, then a quick quote from "The Healthy Dead", and to finish a quote from a blog post by Scott Bakker that just appeared.

--

A theme is not a position, not a political slant, not an agenda, just as a work of honest fiction is not propaganda, polemic, or didactic diatribe. What theme is, among other things, is an area of exploration. And ‘exploration’ is a journey into the unknown, one that breaks down and discards preconceived notions. Exploration involves courage and determination, often verging on the obsessive; as many historical accounts of past explorers will attest. Your enemy is the unknown; your fear is the unknowable, and the peace that follows – if it follows – only comes when the fear goes away. Note that I do not mention wisdom, since as far as I can tell wisdom is another word for world-weary exhaustion, and every wise word uttered is born from bitter experience, and upon hearing such words, one chooses to either take heed or not. Accordingly, bitter experience breeds anew with every generation.

[...]

I have (I think) written about ruthlessness before, the force that must be turned not only upon a work of fiction (or art in general) but also upon oneself: upon one’s own most cherished beliefs. If I haven’t, well, there it is. Agendas that survive their iteration in fiction are, to my mind, evidence of failure; specifically, the author’s failure. They wrote how they want it to be, not how it is.

--

Emancipor winced, overwhelmed by a flood of guilt. ‘Can there be no second chance, Paladin?’
‘Ah, you are a saint indeed, to voice such sentiment. The answer is no, there cannot. The very notion of fallibility was invented to absolve mortals of responsibility. We can be perfect, and you can see true perfection walking here at your side.’
‘You have achieved perfection?’
‘I have. I am. And to dispute that truth is to reveal your own imperfection.’

--

Moral ambiguity and confusion are simply a fact of the human condition, one which in no way speaks to the metaphysical truth of morality. In The Second Apocalypse, the big question is simply one of what people make of this situation. Some instrumentalize it. Some flounder. Some perpetually struggle. And some–like Grin and Theo, apparently–think they have seen through the confusion. Just like the real world.

Just as genre fiction tends to offer wish-fulfilment heroes, much of it offers wish-fulfilment moral certainty as well.