Malazan

Thursday 17, January

Books at my door!

Not all of them since I'm waiting for Bakker's one, but the Amazon shipment has arrived:

Mostly monothematic this month.

I usually buy the books in their US version from an Italian online shop, but in this case I wanted the UK versions of the Erikson's books because they make a better product with overall better covers, and Abercrombie is also first published in the UK, so I got them together in one shipment from Amazon.co.uk.

Before They Are Hanged - Joe Abercrombie (440 pag.)

Second book in the trilogy. The first I already read and commented. This second one is supposed to be even better, and the third even better then the second (with the expectation of one epic battle as well), if you trust the usual reviewers. I do, and in fact I read Abercrombie because of the positive reviews and blurb on the forums. I wasn't disappointed, in fact it was much better than expected and also the kind of book you continue to think about even after you are done reading. It's just that good.

Receiving the book I was both pleased and disappointed. Disappointed because I got this huge version, while I have "The Blade Itself" as a much smaller book. This fooled me because I didn't anticipate the difference as I thought I got the two books in the same format. Instead I didn't. Both are "paperback", but after a quick research I discovered that the paperback in the format I wanted isn't even out yet. So now I have mismatched books, but it's the same because while I could have waited to buy this book in the matching version, I wouldn't then wait another year to get the third. I was also pleased because it's a so beautiful edition. The image of the cover doesn't do it justice. The words are like carved on the paper and there's this magic circle in silver that is only visible on the picture if you squint a lot (and probably only if you know it's there). The pages are also thicker. Looks meaner.

I have this stupid obsession over the pagecount/wordcount. Even if I know well that quantity means nothing, I still have a childish passion for huge books. So I was slightly disappointed to know this second book had "only" 440 pages instead of the 514 of the first. I want more! But then it's not a smaller book, in fact I suspect the wordcount is about the same as there are just more words on one page. So it's about the exact same size.

I'm tempted to start reading *right now* and I keep grinning thinking about the first book, but I'll resist.

House of Chains - Midnight Tides - The Bonehunters - Steven Erikson (1015, 932 and 1202 pag.)

If I like to check thickness and wordcount, I can only be pleased of Erikson just by the sheer size. Soooo pretty massive tomes. And a saga of ten books, plus spin-offs. That's another reason why I have to like him, there's so much to read that I hope it will be all awesomely awesome. All three books use the exact same typeset, so the number of page is indicative of actual size. Not so much comparing them to other authors, as, oddly, there are just 37 lines of text on a page, compared to a standard of 40-42. So usually take about 150 pages from the total count to have an idea. Still impressive.

Erikson's books also have the very best maps (and more than one for each book). I know the presence of a maps is debatable as there are both advantages and disadvantages, but in this case they probably help with the scope. You'll be confused enough by the habit of Erikson of not explaining a damn thing that you don't want to be confused by the geography and where-is-what as well. Just an example: the first book begins at the Mock's Hold, on top of a cliff and in the city of Malaz. At the time I started looking for "Malaz" on the map for a long while without finding it. You would guess that the "Malazan" empire that gives the name to the series should be on the map. But it isn't because it's not even on the same continent the map in the book is about. Instead looking at other books you find out where Malaz really is, and, today in Bonehunters (book 6), I find a good map of the city itself. And while Erikson description were very good, it's still refreshing to have a better and doubt-free look at it.

Does someone have the US version of House of Chains? Because as I expected looking at the maps online, that map is not printed exactly well, and it misses the central section. Since in the two US Erikson books I have the maps are printed better, I wonder if that map is too.

Anyway, I'm about to start from book 1. In the meantime I should also write some comments about that second book of the Black Company I just read. I can anticipate it was a bit deluding.

Oh, and the cover of Toll the Hounds is out. As I commented over there, I don't like it much as it doesn't present well the book. Looks too much like a spook/supernatural book. And Erikson needs something that shows the qualities of his books, so wide scope, scale, sense of wonder. Neither the US or the UK covers underline those qualities.

It also looks to much like the annoying Beast in that Witcher game.

Tuesday 15, January

No books at my door... Yet.

It looks my monthly shipment of books will take slightly longer than expected.

On the tracking page the package seems lost somewhere into Germany. On flight and waiting for delivery I also have a package with the American hardcover first edition of "The Darkness That Comes Before" (the one with the pretty cover), and some drugs (well, not really) I bought from here.

The plan is that I finish the second book of the Black Company in two/three days (I keep delaying it even if I'm just 80 pages from the end) and then start to finally *work* on Erikson. I want to keep a good pace even if I still read very slowly by other blogs standards. About a book every month, fitting that second book by Abercrombie somewhere, so that I can then order Abercombie's third and Erikson's seventh at the same time since they have similar release dates (March/April). Then continue the epic reading task of Erikson up to book 7 and in time for the Hardcover edition out for June/July of "Toll the Hounds" (book 8), as announced. Which should also be out along with the huge tome of Esslemont also set in the Malazan world.

Plenty to read, and even if I still haven't read anything to Erikson, I HAVE TO like it, because he tries to do exactly what I want from fantasy. And if he fails I have little hopes to find it somewhere else. Not that the genre is arid, see my recent comments about "The Blade Itself".

I read that Erikson is already well into book 9, and expects to complete it even before book 8 is out. I think this is the first case EVER of a writer who not only respects the schedule, but that is AHEAD of it. I have high hopes that the series will be complete by January 2010, and, no matter of personal tastes, Malazan will surely be the most ambitious fantasy project ever realized.

There's also this aspect I wanted to discuss. You may think that when a writer pushes out books too fast they will feel rushed. While a writer like, say, Martin, takes his time and rewrite endlessly chapters till they aren't absolutely perfect. So you have this different approach. From a side books that are made to last, going as close as possible to perfection (art). And then books that are considered like "consumables", so they need to be pushed out in time, see a sudden, short-lived success, and then disappear (commodities).

Well, I have instead a very high respect for those writers who work their asses off, and don't wait for "inspiration" before starting to write a word on a page. Writing is still "work". It's fatiguing, and if you aren't fatigued it doesn't work. As a matter of fact, it's almost a rule that those books that come out quickly in a series are usually the best, and those that get delayed, and then delayed more, almost always finish to disappoint and reveal a dip in the quality. This, I think, because writing is a matter of complete immersion. Either you lose your life to be completely absorbed by it, or it doesn't work. There is no other way to write a book than your blood.

When it comes to books it seems in practice that more time almost never equals to better quality. But the opposite.

I also noticed that my don't-call-me-review of "The Blade Itself" was linked by Abercrombie himself. So I guess I'm losing my "covert", low-profile purposes for the drift of this blog toward books. I like staying anonymous. On the other side I feel like I got more "validation" in two months writing sporadically about fantasy books than three years writing daily, and more competently, about MMOs. But then, who cares. Validation isn't between the goals, and I'll "reward" Abercrombie by being very harsh with his second book ;)

Anyway, to those landing here for the first time, remember that I'm not English native speaking. So I try to write as I can, hoping it can be at least interesting for an occasional reader.

Wednesday 19, December

Why fantasy?

This is the "new" topic of the blogosphere (and Shilling's minions), on which I can contribute. Ubiq actually fakes the lack of interest.

Instead of writing one of my long and pointless essays or converse with the close-minded and autoreferential game community, I'll offer the perspective of those who actually know better what fantasy is because they work with it at a deeper level.

First is R. Scott Bakker, author of one of the latest masterpiece of fantasy, the Prince of Nothing trilogy:

The typical answer is that people are searching for 'escape.' Fantasy represents, many would say, a retreat from the harsh world of competition and commerce. Another answer is that fantasy provides, like much fiction, a specific kind of wish-fulfillment. Fantasy allows us, for a time, to be the all-conquering warrior or the all-wise sorcerer. The problem is that neither of these answers in any way distinguishes fantasy from other genres of literature. Fantasy, I would like to suggest, offers a very specific kind of escape and wish-fulfillment, one connected, moreover, to its profound role in the great machine which we call contemporary culture.

Fantasy, I will argue, is the primary literary response to what is often called the 'contemporary crisis of meaning.' And as such, fantasy represents a privileged locus from which one might understand what is going in our culture in general.

--
Reading fantasy represents the attempt to give meaning to one's life by forgetting, for a time, the world that one lives in. In the escape offered by fantasy one glimpses the profound dimensions of our modern dilemma. Fantasy is the primary expression of a terrible socio-historical truth: the fundamental implication of our scientific culture is that life is meaningless.

It's not a case that also his books deal deeply with religion and philosophy.

From my own point of view there are truths in what he says, but it's not that truth that is at the basis of fantasy. Younger readers (and gamers) don't go that deep, and an explanation of the success of fantasy comes from there. Something that must be more visceral and accessible. Not something more delicate and complex like the reasons that Bakker explained.

So to complete those thoughts I'll quote another of these great modern writer, another I named on this site already a few times: Steven Erikson.

I have two answers, one intellectual, one visceral. I'll take 'em in order. Intellectually, the Fantasy genre is the only genre (and I include literary fiction as a genre) where a writer can take a metaphor and make it real, which for me is as creatively liberating as I can get.

And that's it. Nailed in the head (for the visceral one, follow the link).

This is not the first time I write down a similar concept (last time was a few months ago writing about Marvel's Civil War). Men are symbolic beings. So we eat and breath symbols. This links to what Bakker said because religion can offer the strongest symbols but the religion itself is not the key. Symbols in general are the key. The ease of communication.

At the end fantasy is a genre, but also a medium to communicate. As Erikson says, the main trait of this medium is that there no displacement between the message and the meaning. The metaphor is real. So it's one of the most direct way of communicating. It's effective, without frills, without superstructures. Usually you read or hear stories but you have to extract the meaning (symbol) yourself. Fantasy can deliver the symbol in the pure form. It's powerful, not ambiguous. And exactly for this reason it's transversal in the possible audience. Children will get it, adults will get it.

That's the foundation. Then there are other, smaller reasons. For example fantasy is somewhat part of out history. The medieval world, lack of technology. It's a step back to a kind of world we feel we actually relate better to, understand better. Direct relationship with the territory (and death, life, everything inbetween). So even in this case it's more straightforward and visceral, common and accessible to everyone.

And now there are subgenres spinning off in all directions, which is both a good and a bad thing to my mind: good in that the genre is robust enough to spawn new tropes; bad in that a kind of segregation forms, where writers of a particular subgenre virtually cease reading fantasy works in the other subgenres and in the genre as a whole. As in science, specialization breeds isolation and before you know it, we're all running blind and ignorant of everything else that's going on around us. Huh, maybe like me.

Saturday 15, December

Return of the Crimson Guard - Cover

Pretty huh?

It's one of the two covers for that upcoming book in the Malazan series, not by Erikson but by Esslemont. As previously explained.

Problem is this is the limited edition that is just too expensive to be reasonable. I hope the one that will be released in August for a normal price won't have a much worse cover...

I also wonder where they are putting the text on that cover. The upper half just can't be covered.

Monday 12, November

Return of the Crimson Guard + Malazan map collection

Steven Erikson shares the Malazan world with his friend and co-writer Ian Cameron Esslemont (ICE for short).

So if you want to read the complete story about that world things are slightly more complicate than with Erikson own storylines.

We have this scheme that works for the first seven novels:

Genabeckis Continent & campaign as main arc: books 1 & 3
Seven Cities subcontinent & rebellion as main arc: books 2, 4, & 6
Lether Continent and Tiste Edur: books 5 & 7

Book 1, 2 and 5 are ideal starting points, as they present each a new block. While book 6 is the first truly not standalone and leading right to the seventh. It's also with the sixth and seventh that most plots come together.

Chronologically the first would be book 5. Then book 1. Book 2 and 3 are simultaneous, and 4, 6 and 7 one after the other.

What we know about the remaining three books:

"Toll the Hounds" : It should be already complete or near completion and it should be out by August 08, with a contemporary publication in UK and US for the first time. It goes back to Genabackis (so the continent of book 1 and 3), and is supposed to have a huge climax at the end.

"Dust of Dreams" + "The Crippled God" : The last two books will read as one gigantic novel to give the series an epilogue. Erikson also confirmed that both books will take place in a new continent that was never used in his books.

--
This is about the "core" about the Malazan saga. Then there are spin-offs and complements. For future projects Erikson already said he could write a sort of prelude book "to explore the pasts of some of the Ascendents (such as Anomander Rake) before they became the powerful figures we see them as in The Malazan Book of the Fallen".

Then we have three "Bauchelain and Korbal Broach" novellas that shouldn't present continuity problems and that you can buy bundled here for $40. Not cheap but cheaper than their cumulative cost. Three more novellas are planned, like a second series to this book.

And finally Esslemont. His first so-so book "Night of Knives" is already out. Is better read before "The Bonehunters" (Malazan's 6th book) and chronologically sits before book 1.

His next book "Return of the Crimson Guard" was instead announced in a "normal" edition for 11 August 2008, along with "Toll the Hounds". But you may get it around January if you are willingly to spend $150 for a super-deluxe early ed.

Some complained that "Night of Knives" felt more like a novella than a fully realized novel like Erikson's books. For RotCG Erikson confirmed that the book counts 280k words, making it bigger than Deadhouse Gates for comparison (expect about 800 pages).

The book is probably better read after "The Bonehunters". And we have already a "review" (from westeros forums):
"One of the in-circle guys at Malazan who read the book felt it was more readable than Erikson's prose."

UPDATE - Still from westeros:
I got some information about the PS special edition as well.

It's due to be released in March. It's 266,000 words.

The covers will be done by the superb Edward Miller. Cover and synopsis should be up by Christmas.

-
Here's the summary.

Steven Erikson - Malazan Book of the Fallen

1. Gardens of the Moon
2. Deadhouse Gates
3. Memories of Ice
4. House of Chains
5. Midnight Tides
6. The Bonehunters
7. Reaper's Gale
8. Toll the Hounds
- August 2008
9. Dust of Dreams - 2009
10. The Crippled God - 2010

Steven Erikson - Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novellas

1. Blood Follows
2. The Healthy Dead
3. The Lees of Laughter's End

Ian Cameron Esslemont

- Night of Knives
- Return of the Crimson Guard
- August 2008

--
To conclude, some maps I collected. Still missing some.

- Malaz City
- Malaz Island
- Genabackis (original GotM)
- Genabackis (corrected MoI version)
- NW Genabackis (detail, from House of Chains)
- Quon Tali + Malaz island
- Central Malazan Empire (Quon Tali + Falari Isles)
- Korel - Land of Fist (From Stonewielder)
- Seven Cities
- Seven Cities (variant)
- Chain of Dogs - 1st half (Seven Cities east)
- Chain of Dogs - 2nd half (Seven Cities west)
- Lether
- Kolanse (From The Crippled God, western part of Lether)

Most current mock-up of world map and position of continents (shapes are not correct, positions and relative dimensions should mostly be).

Tuesday 6, November

New books at my door

I got my monthly shipment of books:

- "The Name of the Wind" Patrick Rothfuss (660 pag.)
- "The Blade Itself" Joe Abercrombie (515 pag.)
- "Gardens of the Moon" Steven Erikson (700 pag.)
- "Deadhouse Gates" Steven Erikson (935 pag.)
- "Memories of Ice" Steven Erikson (1180 pag.)

This time all ordered from Amazon.co.uk because I wanted the UK version (all paperbacks).

"The Name of the Wind" is a MASSIVE edition. It's one of the hugest books I've ever seen and truly impressive. I'm sure the UK edition is far superior than the US one, and the cover is pretty. "The Blade Itself" is a physically smaller book but finely crafted too. Both are from "Gollancz" and I'm going to stick with those editions because they are really wonderful. I like this publisher, it shows some tangible love for the books.

Speaking of what's inside, instead, both are debuts and Most Recommended along with Scott Lynch. Those kinds of book you can blindly buy and be sure they will be great. If you look around you can read plenty of comments and reviews on blogs and forums, hot stuff. Both are trilogies. Rothfuss's series should be already complete but we'll have a new book every year, with the first out not long ago, while Abercrombie is already at the third book that should be out in March.

Just for a vague idea: "The Name of the Wind" should be an epic/adult version of Harry Potter, but where the comparison doesn't make it justice. "The Blade Itself" instead is a character-driven epic, playing with the classic "party" stereotype to then turn it upside down. Gore and humor part of the recipe.

Some quotes:

"The debut novel from Patrick Rothfuss -- the first installment of an epic fantasy trilogy entitled the 'Kingkiller Chronicle' -- not only lives up to its extraordinary pre-press hype (DAW president Elizabeth Wollheim called it "the most brilliant first fantasy novel I have read in over 30 years as an editor"), it surpasses it. When fantasy fans begin reading THE NAME OF THE WIND, they should be fully prepared to lose all contact with the outside world while immersed in this highly original and mesmerizing tale of magic, love, and adventure."
-Strange Horizons

"Folks, this is the real thing. Though it's considerably darker than the HARRY POTTER series, this is also a bildungsroman -- the story of the childhood, education, and training of a boy who grew up to be a legendary hero. Not a word of the nearly-700-page book is wasted. Rothfuss does not pad. He's the great new fantasy writer we've been waiting for, and this is an astonishing book. I don't recommend it for pre-teens, mostly because it moves at an adult-fiction pace and has some truly disturbing events. But he does not describe gore (though the action is intense) and while there is some sexual tension, nothing is shown that would shock a teenager. If you're a reader of fantasy or simply someone who appreciates a truly epic-scale work of fiction, don't go through this summer without having read it. At the very least it will keep you busy till the last HARRY POTTER comes out. But I warn you -- after THE NAME OF THE WIND, the HARRY POTTER novel might seem a little thin and -- dare I say it? -- childish. You have been warned."
-Orson Scott Card

"The Blade Itself easily equals anything released in epic fantasy in the past few years, and just may rise to the top ... This book is about characters first, and Abercrombie skillfully portrays them with near-perfect internal and external dialogue set at an ideal pace ... he stops just short of spitting in the face of genre and set my heart racing through some the best written fight scenes of any genre. This one is not just for fans of epic fantasy."
Neth Space

"Abercrombie kicks off his series masterfully with a heroic fantasy without conventional heroes. Its clearly the characters that take center stage here. Their dialogue is full of cynicism and wit, their lives full of intrigue, battles and magic."
Romantic Times

"The Blade Itself is simultaneously an homage to fantasy of old, a satirical riff on cliches common within the genre, and a contemporary revision."
Fantasy Book Critic

The fascination with this Noir fantasy is the key cast members. The foursome is not epic heroes, but instead they are flawed to the point that the story line at times feels like an amusing satire of the Tolkien lite imitations. Not for everyone, THE BLADE ITSELF is carried by its deep characters, who tote more negatives than positives and may prove to cause the beginning of the end; these incredibly flawed souls make for a fresh and outstanding fantasy."
Harriet Klausner

If you want those books try to get them in the UK editions. I can't stress enough how good they are. Really worlds apart.

Erikson instead goes without presentation. I decided to drop the US version for the UK one but I was betrayed by new editions. I got the first two books in the new edition and new cover, while the third in the old one.

Now not only I'll need to repurchase that third book in the new version so that I have a homogeneous collection, but I also want "Gardens of the Moon" in the old cover, because I really like it. And I liked more the overall layout of the older version.

Following the new covers of the new editions (of books three and five, as book two and four have old covers even in the new ed):

.

Friday 2, November

"Power differential" in fantasy literature

From a thread criticizing Steven Erikson. This is my comment.

--
I'm weirdly expecting to love deeply Erikson, but I still haven't read it.

But I've read an infinite amount of forums thread and reviews that I almost feel like I know his books better than some readers who dabbed it.

What is interesting is that he IS the author to hate or love. While you usually find some consensus about other authors (Jordan can be hated or loved as well, but there's consensus about his best books, his flaws and so on), with Erikson you can read everything, and then the opposite.

So in a comment you read that his characters are cardboard cutouts, and in another that his characters are wonderful, each perfectly defined, with his flaws and everything. Some say that characters are his weakest point, and some say that characters are his main strength.

Sometimes, I also figured out the consensus. For example this problem about comparing him to D&D.

I've figured out that this isn't because of the language used or the target of the novels, but mostly because of a "deux ex machina" approach.

For example, with Martin you have a story about men against other men. Political struggles, factions pitted one against the other. So the plot develops depending on its premises.

Whereas Erikson has what in MMO you call "power differential". The world is more permeated with magic. Men aren't all alike. This is why Erikson is compared to the Iliad. Gods walk along men, the power of certain guys is much greater than a pawn. There are interests and plots playing at different levels.

For some readers this "breaks the rules". Because there are "deux ex machina" characters that are too powerful and so bend the plot without respecting the implicit rules within the plot itself. While for other readers this is the FUN. Because it's extremely interesting to watch the relationships, behaviors and consequences when these different powers meet. The fireworks! To watch how men fuck the much greater powers, to see the cards on the table being thrown in the air and so on.

So for some readers this resembles to D&D in the sense that it's in the D&D that you have those normal peons in the village who run the farm, and then the 20th level warrior who has a shitton of health points. Or the mage who can split the earth in two.

Where Martin deals with characters and plots that all sit on one level, all intertwined together (that's why they call him master of weave), Erikson does something similar, but on the vertical level. Where a lot depends of how much you (the POV) know. Because the cards on the table never stay the same and you constantly discover something that makes you reconsider the whole thing. There's always someone who knows more, there's always something lurking in the shadows of the knowledge that is plotting behind your shoulders. And who believes to be leading, is instead lead.

It's like Martin is the master of x-axis and Erikson master of y-axis. And what you like depends a lot on your preferences, and then expectations.

This is something I think I figured out. What I haven't figured out instead is how to rate Erikson as a *writer*. Not the quality of plot or characters. Just the writing itself (skipping the first book).

Some say that Erikson is comparable to Martin, some say he's a notch below but still at the very top of the genre, some say he's not even comparable.

So, for those of you who think Martin is a much better writer, who are those writers that you would comprise between them?

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