Malazan

Wednesday 8, April

George R. R. Martin and Steven Erikson

(elaboration of a forum post)

Erikson has definitely an inhuman approach.

I'm reading Martin right now for the first time and I can assure you that the most evident difference is how he puts there the characters first, and much later the plot. In the first chapter with Bran he sets up a handy situation to present one by one all his family. Plot points and history are introduced through well placed infodumps, some of them are repeated/redundant every chapter with some more elements added so that the reader isn't overwhelmed. In any case, even if you miss something, all the focus is on a few characters, living their life relatively unaware. Readers can connect to that, as the tricks are quite common: little boy gets puppy, little girl gets pretty horse, Sansa and Arya with sisterly rivalry and contrasting personality, adding unmotivated cruelty to move feelings. The first and foremost concern of Martin is to know where the reader stands and win him over.

Erikson gets to the plot first, characters eventually come later. Because he isn't writing an introduction for you. You start with Bridgeburners, but you get to know them better as characters only in book 2 and 3. Martin, writing Erikson's story, would have started presenting the Bridgeburners one by one, the plot would have come much later, with time. Instead of showing the siege of Pale from Tattersail POV, he probably would have stayed in the trenches with the Bridgeburners and use them to slowly explore the plots from their limited POV. The many of the POVs at the beginning of Martin's book are "kids" because kids offer a simplified, unaware vision that works well as an introduction point for the reader.

What I mean is that it's not the number of pages the problem. In fact this story written from a different perspective would take MORE pages, not less. I also think that Erikson's way isn't inferior to Martin's. There isn't one better than the other, they are just antithetic, aiming for a different result. To appreciate for their difference.

Martin will ALWAYS reach a larger public because his writing is much more approachable, making easier to connect with story and characters. Erikson, deliberately, writes in a different way and doesn't care to win the reader over. He doesn't care to make sympathetic characters that readers find easy to connect to. Paran and Felisin may be mistaken for that, but it's pretty obvious how their paths make them completely alien, instead of familiar.

You can love or hate this, but you can't mistake it for a lack of skill. Erikson isn't trying, is non-conformist. His focus is elsewhere and works HARD to avoid making familiar, sympathetic characters. He writes to upset, disappoint and put the reader off balance. He dreads to fall in some common place or typical story. So, when he does something vaguely familiar, twists it so that it is deformed. That's how Erikson works. He writes in spite of common feelings and writing trappings. He breaks all the rules deliberately and with deep understanding.

Many here enjoy Erikson's plots, but can't stand his attitude. So in the longer term they are disappointed, especially when the plot isn't the absolute focus with its pretty fireworks and all. I may be an exception but I like Erikson for attitude first, and plot and fireworks later. I can't predict where he goes and I'm not groaning because I see him trying hard to win my sympathy (like I do often with Martin): because he's not a fraud. I think that the aspect I admire the most in Erikson's writing is the absolute sincerity. I think he writes for himself more than every other writer I've read up to this point. So I share his intent, and follow him silently :)

Martin writes for you, and writes the story the best way to please you. The audience is the protagonist and ultimate focus. Erikson writes for himself, sincerely and without hypocrisy or desires of popularity. Without compromises. He'll never try to do something to please a reader because that would be betraying what he is and what he does.

Some evidence of this is in the way they work. Some writers write for money or popularity. They are quite easy to recognize because after they get enough money or become popular, they lose their motivation. Martin has some of this. He struggles with the writing, doesn't find it an easy or pleasant task. He sweats on the books. On his blog he says often that he enjoys "having written" much more than writing. This is symptom of the fact that his true moving motivation comes after, my guess is that he may enjoy more the popularity and satisfaction that comes after the book. This reflects directly in his writing style. He writes to please first and foremost and this is obvious reading his books and I've explained above.

I think I read in a interview that the longest vacation Erikson took between the books was ten days. He doesn't stop writing and keeps an aggressive schedule, writing huge books almost every year. This also is reflected in his writing style. He writes in spite of the audience and I think that the real risk is that he would take his readers with so much antipathy to start doing everything possible to kick them away. I have the impression that he's scared to meet his readers and find out they are a bunch of idiots. If he writes it is because he finds the motivation within himself only, and has demonstrated that he does absolutely nothing to meet the reader's desires. If you follow him it is not because he dragged you forcefully down his path, but because you agreed to his work in an uncompromising way. Saying that the books and plots needed to be edited and cut is like saying that his work should be subject to manipulation in order to meet better validation. I don't think that Erikson refuses this because of some "noble integrity", but because that would mean lying to himself and obtain an attention he doesn't desire.

His flaw isn't in his skill, his flaw is being a niche writer who is exposed to a larger public than the one he writes for.

Thursday 26, March

Cover and prologue from Dust of Dreams

The events that accompany the release of one of Erikson's books are the release of the prologue followed by the cover art, then the hunt for the first comments and reviews. The book itself should be shipping around the beginning of September if delays don't happen.

Today is the day of the first two events, since the mass market release of the previous book (Toll the Hounds) is already being shipped to selected few.

Here's the prologue and the cover.

Yet, I no longer regret. For this is as it should be. After all, war knows no other language. In war we invite our own destruction. In war we punish our children with a broken legacy of blood.
He understood now. The gods of war and what they meant, what their very existence signified. And as he stared upon those jade suns searing ever closer, he was overwhelmed by the futility hiding behind all this arrogance, this mindless conceit.
See us wave our banners of hate.
See where it gets us.
A final war had begun. Facing an enemy against whom no defense was possible. Neither words nor deeds could fool this clear-eyed arbiter. Immune to lies, indifferent to excuses and vapid discourses on necessity, on the weighing of two evils and the facile righteousness of choosing the lesser one – and yes, these were the arguments he was hearing, empty as the ether they traveled.

As always, this was followed by my usual rant about the cover (bring me Komarck or Swanland, this "guy on a horse with both guy and horse smiling at the camera under sunset" is as generic and unsubstantial as it could be).

But then another event promptly reminded me that things could be worse. MUCH worse:
- Jordan's last book to be completed by Brandon Sanderson won't be just split in two like all bad omens used to tell us, but in THREE. And the cover couldn't be more hideous.

EDIT: Beside the diplomacy, Sanderson doesn't sound too happy either.

Saturday 14, March

Erikson's ninth book almost finished

The last publication date I had read about Dust of Dreams was the beginning of September.

Calculating things and comparing dates to previous occasions it was about the time we received the prologue for the book, followed by its cover.

Latest news are slightly different, but still quite good: Erikson is later then usual finishing this book. The reason seems partly about some "massive battle scenes" that conclude the book and that are taking more time than usual. The book is still scheduled for the same date but it may get delayed (still within the year almost for sure).

Hetan on Malazan forums was more precise and said that currently Erikson is working on the last two chapters of the book (by Erikson's standard about 90 pages on a total of 900). We're close, and the book requiring more work is a good thing, even if "massive battle scenes" don't work as a solid argument for me. I prefer strong, meaningful plot with the right revelations and things falling smoothly in their right place. Diversions! Deceits! Reversals! Upheavals! The exhibition of cool things is nice, but a coat of shiny paint over what's meaningful.

I already commented that I find him less incisive when he tries too much to impress. I expect from Erikson so much more than pretty fireworks.

I want sleight of hand.

Friday 6, March

Wordcount of popular (and hefty) epics

Will now move HERE.

If you are curious, here some samples. The numbers are approximate and should omit indexes, appendices and stuff not directly belonging to the text itself.

Discrepancies are often due to the fact that Microsoft Word consider "it's" like one word, instead my data is measured considering it as "it is", so two words. This can usually add a plus 5-10k compared to Microsoft Word wordcount.

Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien (revised to be in line with the rest)

The Fellowship of the Ring: 187k
The Two Towers: 155k
The Return of the King: 131k

Total: 473k

Wheel of Time - Robert Jordan

The Eye of the World: 305k
The Great Hunt: 267k
The Dragon Reborn: 251k
The Shadow Rising: 393k
The Fires of Heaven: 354k
Lord of Chaos: 389k
A Crown of Swords: 295k
The Path of Daggers: 226k
Winter's Heart: 238k
Crossroads of Twilight: 271k
Knife of Dreams: 315k

Total: 3M 304k (official count)

Stormlight Archives - Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings: 387k (official count)

A Song of Ice And Fire - George R. R. Martin

A Game of Thrones: 298k
A Clash of kings: 326k
A Storm of Swords: 424k
A Feast for Crows: 300k
A Dance with Dragons: 422k

Total: 1M 770k

Malazan Book of the Fallen - Steven Erikson

Gardens of the Moon: 209k
Deadhouse Gates: 272k
Memories of Ice: 358k
House of Chains: 306k
Midnight Tides: 270k
The Bonehunters: 365k
Reaper's Gale: 386k
Toll the Hounds: 392k
Dust of Dreams: 382k
The Crippled God: 385k

Total: 3M 325k

Forge of Darkness series/Trilogy:

Volume 1: 292k (very tentative)

Esslemont:

Night of Knives: 88k
Return of the Crimson Guard: 278k
Stonewielder: 237k

Prince of Nothing (and rest) - R. Scott Bakker

The Darkness that Comes Before: 175k
The Warrior-Prophet: 205k
The Thousandfold Thought: 139k

Total: 519k

The Judging Eye: 151k
The White-Luck Warrior: 200k~

A Land Fit for Heroes(?) - Richard Morgan

The Steel Remains: 146k
The Cool Commands: 171k

The Wars of Light and Shadow - Janny Wurts

Curse of the Mistwraith: 233k
Ships of Merior: 206k
Warhost of Vastmark: 156k
Fugitive Prince: 220k
Grand Conspiracy: 235k
Peril's Gate: 300k
Traitor's Knot: 220k
Stormed Fortress: 248k

Total: 1M 818k

The Night's Dawn Trilogy - Peter F. Hamilton

The Reality Dysfunction: 385k
The Neutronium Alchemist: 393k
The Naked God: 469k (!)

Total: 1M 247k

Baroque+Crypto - Neal Stephenson

Cryptonomicon: 415k

Quicksilver: 390k
The Confusion: 348k
The System of the World: 387k

Total: 1M 540k

The Dark Tower - Stephen King

The Gunslinger: 55k
The Drawing of the Three: 128k
The Waste Lands: 178k
Wizard and Glass: 264k
Wolves of the Calla: 251k
Song of Susannah: 131k
The Dark Tower: 288k

Total: 1M 295k

Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace

- 575k

Updated: 27 Oct 2011

Toll The Hounds in Mass Market

Transworld site updated today.

The Mass Market UK edition of Toll the Hounds is coming out the 9 April, meaning that it will likely be available on Amazon and retail a few days earlier.

Not only this is great news because I like to watch at a nice stack of 8 books all in the same format, but also because with this version should also come the prologue to "Dust of Dreams", aka the beginning of the end.

The page count of this book is exactly like the previous, so 1280 pages.

Friday 6, February

Memories of Ice - Steven Erikson

Third book in the series. I started reading it with very high expectations. I knew from forums' discussions and reviews that this third book was considered the highest peak in the whole series. I came from the previous two that I loved and, especially, after being AWED by the three novellas of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. Those that won me over and got my unconditional love for Erikson. The difference is that before I came to the books with expectations to match, after having read the novellas I'm now ready to put aside what "I'd like and expect to read" and just let Erikson bring me where he wants. I've learned to respect and admire his work and forget the pettish critical eye of the always skeptic.

When I turned the last page I had three thoughts going around in my mind. The first is a sense of emptiness that isn't new to me when I finish a book that I've been reading for a long time. This book has accompanied me for the better part of four months, reading slowly but regularly as is my habit. When I close the book I have this feeling of emptiness, of characters that I've learned to know that remain in my head like echoes, lingering feelings. Like trails whose source I'm starting to forget. I know well this feeling and I know its name: it's nostalgia. For me it starts as soon as I turn the last page. This time there is so much to remember that the feeling was amplified and leading into another: there is nothing left to read. I mean, there's so much in this book that it leaves you feeling like you've read everything. There's nothing else that could be written. Like a big "the end". It's over. The book embraced everything. Like Iktovian, Erikson seems to say, "I am done".

This is epic fantasy. The embodiment of the abstraction. This book is like a shell, through which you can hear the sea. That's the magic. It leads to something unexpected and shows you things vividly. Those last 150 pages are so filled with emotions, so inspired that they feel intimidating now. It's only after those 150 pages that you understand where Erikson was going, you see the ultimate end. Three books to get there.

But I also have to say that I made this happen. While I read daily 15-20 pages for those four months, for the last 170 pages I sat comfortably on my couch and read without interruption from 1AM to past 5. In complete silence. This is something I consider like an obligation. Reading a book is a one-time event. Unrepeatable. It's a gift that I don't want wasted and so tried to get in the best way possible.

That feeling of emptiness, absolute fulfillment and nostalgia was the dominant one. Then I thought that it was unbelievable. Imagining in retrospective, the author that is about to write the first page, and is thinking about the last. You look back now that it's over, and it's simply impossible. This is not a human endeavor, it's just crazy. Insane. It's unbelievable the goals he set, it's unbelievable how he wrote page after page, it's unbelievable where he arrived. A mix of genius, insanity and carelessness. And, obviously, awe on my side.

Third on the stream of thoughts, was my surprise about a particular aspect. Throughout the book I saw one of his goals and believed it impossible. On the forums I even explained and discussed this point. Often Erikson deals with feelings and concepts that transcend the human level. In order to make a reader "feel" you have to use something that "resonates". Something that we have in common. Something archetypal that we all know and share, and that we could impersonate again. That's the only way you reach an emotional level in every form of art. If you read the forums the common complaint about Erikson is that his characters fail to really reach the heart, so it's easier to appreciate the books through the mind than through the heart. Even his writing style is more rationally involving than is emotionally. In this particular case I'm talking about within the book, Erikson tries to convey a feeling of endless despair that belongs to the T'lan Imass (an undead race in the book). So I was explaining on the forums that I can appreciate Erikson's goals, I can enjoy what he wants to do and be awed, but this will only work on the rational level since I'm just unable to "connect" with an alien race like the T'lan Imass. At various points in the book Erikson tries to "force" the feeling, and instead I felt like it wasn't quite working. It was a best effort, but it just wasn't possible and so felt somewhat "blunt" and failing in the end. Well, the end of the book was able to achieve fully what I felt as impossible. Throughout the whole book it seemed that Erikson was rinsing and repeating, forcing something that wasn't working well. With the end of the book he succeeds. Those feelings passed through without losing completely those alien traits. The book made me live something that was utmost unique. That single aspect.

That's why I think the book is the embodiment of epic. It's insanely ambitious, sets goals impossible to reach, staggering. And gets there. "I am done". And it's because he is done that I wonder where he found the energies to write further. There isn't anything else to write. It's over. This book reads as the final chapter. The hanging threads are superfluous sophistications that may as well stay there floating in potential. I read book 1, intrigued, though the ending was rushed and too forced in its spectacularity. I had my mind filled with questions that I wanted answered (as after watching an episode of Lost). I started reading book 2 to get my answers. Loved Heboric because as an historian he was the symbol of all my longings. By half of this second book I got most of my answers. By the end of the book all those answers were turned on their head and all my theories fell apart. In fact I was upset because I didn't think the plot was going to make sense. Too many contradictions. Besides, the last 250 pages weren't written as well as the rest of the book. The usual convergence felt again a bit too rushed and two of the three plot lines were dull in the way they were presented (as usual I explained this better in the comments to the book). Great book nonetheless, but I was still there longing for answers and to start making sense of the whole thing. Then I read the novellas that suprised me for all different reasons. No more caring much for the intricacies of the plot, but being awed by the *writing* itself, the sheer creativity and surprises at every page. A careful masterpiece, word by word, in a completely different way from the other broader books. I started this third book to get back to the hanging plots left by book 1, once again to get my answers. By half of it I got most of my answers, by the end of it, I didn't care anymore.

While reading through book 1, 2 and most of the third I was wondering why there weren't more discussions on the forums about the mysteries and hidden plots. The great majority of readers are much further with the books so I believed that they OUGHT to know more about what I wanted to know. Instead not only they didn't, but in many cases they didn't have any clue about *what I was asking*. Like if I was reading an entirely different thing. Well, it was true. There are two aspects to consider. One is that this series is like a parallel to Lost, the TV series. Both use some of the same tricks and Erikson uses some of them even better. One of the tricks is to force the attention of the reader onto something else. You fill a first part with mysteries, then continue to shift the focus till the reader/spectator is enthralled by brand new mysteries and forgets about the firsts. Erikson does some of this through some kind of chinese boxes, and it works great. What you think was a mystery onto itself, reveals to be part of a MUCH bigger tapestry. The box contained in a much bigger box, and the bigger box into another. Those questions and mysteries kind of fall to irrelevance when you realize that all you got was nothing in the bigger picture and you were trying to put together a puzzle of 5000 pieces by matching together just an handful. If you look for Agatha Christie kind of flawless weaving you are going to be disappointed as it is very likely that some of the pieces are mistakes and not just masterful misdirection (and multiple level of meaning, something Erikson does well), but the way he manages these unexpected transitions from a lower level to an emergent one is eminently enjoyable. It's also with this third book that something changes. In book 1 and 2 you were just trusting the writer and just add more pieces to a borderless puzzle. It was pure chaos as there was nothing conventional or expected. A blank board with a stream of pieces coming in, the reason why most readers are welcomed with absolute confusion and bafflement. The third book instead starts to fill the gaps. After having drawn the horizon, you start to grasp the big picture and "belong" more to the world Erikson created. So starting to understand the pieces, recognize them and play with them. I was saying how the mysteries "escalate" to upper levels so broad that the details fade out, and how Erikson diverts the attention to new "live" threads, making others less important. Secondly, and here we come to the point, it succeeds where he was failing. Characters, emotions. After working so much on the rational level he finally succeeds to bring the characters to the front, and with the ending of this third book all of the sophistications of the plots that crowded my thoughts during the previous books became suddenly less relevant. I wasn't thinking anymore about why Dujek was contradicting Laseen, or who killed who during the sieges of Pale. I was thinking instead of the characters and the sense of emptiness (nostalgia) they left in me. I was there sharing something with them.

After this endless stream of unbelievable praises do I think the book is flawless? Well, if I have to rate it, it would score a perfect. Simply because it is a success on what it wants to be, and what it wants to be is something I'll remember for a long time. It doesn't mean that the book is perfect, but that the problems fade out and I don't consider them as relevant as in the previous books. For most of this third book I thought that the writing quality and style was overall a little below of book 2 (or at least book 2 minus two plots at the end of the book as I explained in that commentary), I also thought that if I had to rank them I'd put the second on top. That before reaching the end of the third book. Now I really couldn't put this third book below and I understand all those readers who think that it's the highest peak of the series. Deadhouse Gates has an overall better execution, beautifully written, but the ambition (and payoff) behind it just can't compare with what Erikson does here.

There are other aspects I can criticize. The book is, shortly put, wasteful. To those who think that books this long (1100 pages) are unnecessary, I'll say that these are not 1100 pages written by a writer who's trying to fill 1100 pages. These are 1100 pages written by someone who's trying to *squeeze* into them all he has in his mind. The pacing of the book is relentless and those pages without action are the pages that in the end are more important and filled with revelations (so moving the plot). I say this is wasteful because there's just too much. While the end works on its own and justifies the journey, for the first half of the book Erikson wastes a number of valid ideas without playing them to their full potential. He fires them into the air clumsily and brings them down shortly after. He wastes opportunities. He builds up mysteries only to spoil them two pages later (if not on the same page). The pacing is so sustained that you have no time to let characters and feeling linger enough. A case of excessive creativity and drive. In retrospective I now understand better where this "urge" came from. There was to much to do for the destination that he already had an insane number of balls to juggle in the air. As I said, this book is insane.

At some point halfway through the book there's an idea extremely interesting. One of the main characters has a crisis of faith and starts to question what he believes in. His words are pure beauty and deep. This is also an extremely important transition in the plot. I'll quote it again:

And perhaps that is the final, most devastating truth. The gods care nothing for ascetic impositions on moral behaviour. Care nothing for rules of conduct, for the twisted morals of temple priests and monks. Perhaps indeed they laugh at the chains we wrap around ourselves - our endless, insatiable need to find flaws within the demands of life. Or perhaps they do not laugh, but rage at us. Perhaps our denial of life's celebration is our greatest insult to those whom we worship and serve.

The character here has made a vow to his god and is now wondering if the gods are really caring about these demonstration of faith. Maybe that vow is instead an insult to the gods, what he calls a "denial of life's celebration". Why life shouldn't be experienced fully? Why "our endless, insatiable need to find flaws within the demands of life"? It's beautiful not just because of how it was written, but because those words have depth, truth (and not, like Gene Wolfe, just a way to "adorn" in fancy, sophisticate words a simple concept).

'You question your vows.'
'I do, sir. I admit to doubting their veracity.'
'Has it been your belief, Shield Anvil, that your rules of conduct has existed to appease Fener?'
Iktovian frowned as he leaned on the merlon and stared out at the smoke-wreathed enemy camps. 'Well, yes-'
'Then you have lived under a misapprehension, sir.'

I won't spoil the solution of this passage, but I'll use it as a concrete example of how Erikson doesn't play many of his ideas to their full potential. This whole transition and character development (and resolution) I've hinted here is contained in TWO PAGES. It is beautiful, deep, not at all simple. Filled with potential and interest to my eyes. Kept me glued to the book. But completely contained in 2 pages among 1100. This is the pacing of this book. All the book is like that, filled with different threads and crazy ideas that come and go page after page. Every page is a pivotal point and this rhythm so sustained becomes somewhat detrimental as there's no way to make all these things "settle" in the mind of the reader. Once again, familiarize.

This is what lead me to write that other commentary about character development. Without "slices of life" or time to familiarize, the readers will feel disconnected from the characters in the book. If deep transitions and shift of motivations happen in the space of two pages, like the Iktovian example here, then it will be hard for the reader to relate to them and share/understand their feelings. At the same time this is a strength for Erikson. His unique style. The journey isn't a typical, already seen one, the characters aren't conventional, and they develop in unpredictable ways that demand a big effort to the reader in order to keep the pace and understand this type of complexity. Lacking the redundancy that is typical of the genre (these days I'm reading Goodkind and the parts of it that work well work exactly because of the redundancy). The more I think about the book now that I read it from beginning to end, the more I realize that there wasn't any other way to write it.

Typical deus ex machina associated with Erikson are part of this case. There are many in this book. They make sense, are part of the world. But the tapestry is so broad and the threads so disparate that when it all comes together in the end you can't avoid the feeling that all of that was "guided". This will annoy purists, but in this case the "intent" is itself the reward. There wasn't any other way. This story told itself. The hand "driving" plot threads and characters along isn't an intrusion, but just the way the story told itself in the way it should. Iktovian is an example because Erikson builds the character through the book to "get there". There wasn't any other way to do it. "Destiny" as a destination that ultimately follows a sequence of steps. Similar to the Greek myths and legends that Erikson uses as inspiration, and whose metaphoric value he tries to give life to. Salvation, tragedy and a whole lot of other undertones. Themes high and low mixed together. Sleight of hand and awe.

Either you follow (and be willingly to follow) Erikson or this whole thing just won't work. On the forums I read all sort of criticism and a good amount of it is poorly motivated. This leads, even from myself, to claim that those readers "do not get it". Too often what happens toward the whole genre, and is promptly defended by everyone, happens again within. People attack the book because it has an excessive use of magic, powerful characters, huge battles. Well, my opinion is that these books are great IN SPITE of those. It is when Erikson is most realist and delves deep in his themes that he is most successful. But why using the spectacularity as an argument to diminish the books? It's "serious literature" vs fantasy all over again. The same mistakes repeated by those who are this side of the fence (appreciating the genre) and that should know better than criticize something through stupid, superficial arguments. It's diminishing without understanding. So I say that when those arguments are used, readers "do not get it". Erikson is a lot more than what drifts on the surface. If all you notice is the powerful magic and characters then it means you are gliding on. Losing the great majority of the meaning of those words.

The payoff is then only proportional to the dedication. Erikson will never work too well for the large public. It will never be an easy and almost safe recommendation (like Abercrombie or Scott Lynch). It will never be for a "majority". It will never work for a variegated public on different levels (and ages). But if you are on the same line and are interested in its themes and intent, then it will be nothing short of grandiose. More than a book, a journey.

Thursday 5, February

Please give Erikson a good artist, someday

On another blog it was mentioned that Tor (US publisher) is relaunching Steven Erikson by adopting the UK covers, at least for the first book.

As commented there I think it's a good choice as the US covers are really bad for that kind of books. They give an idea of childish fantasy, young adult at best, with the classic stereotypes. They just don't fit. The UK covers are nothing spectacular either, but at least they look more elegant and classy and don't discourage the reader the same way Tor covers I think are doing.

That said I hope one day I'll see these books getting not just acceptable covers, but good ones. As I wrote in other occasions I think the artists Michael Komarck and Raymond Swanland are those who could better represent Erikson's work and vision.

Speaking of Swanland, he's already doing Glen Cook's omnibus covers and they are great (even if Glen Cook himself isn't too pleased about those new bundles). Here's the next incoming:

The cover is great as always, even if I have to admit I'm not a fan of a character posing in the center of the stage. I prefer much more panoramic vistas that focus on the mood than the close-ups on the characters. I prefer the characters to say exclusive of the reader's mind. Or at least, if they have to be there, not facing straight at the reader and posing.

Monday 29, December

Erikson VS GRRM VS Goodkind

I'm currently reading in parallel Memories of Ice, Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule, and A Game of Thrones because I'm curious about the real differences between them.

Erikson is the one who brings up more controversy between fans and haters, Goodkind is rooted in the genre, hugely popular and vastly hated by critics, Martin uses a more realistic setting and approach, is popular, and vastly loved by critics.

It's a good mix of radically different writers.

One aspect I was considering and that sticks out the most is that in Erikson's books there are NO slices of life. I can't make a single example. This is maybe the main reason why the books aren't able to "capture" the reader on a emotional level and why so many complain that the characterization is shallow.

I am often arguing that the problem of Erikson's books is not that they are too long, but that they are short. There is no space for things to calm down and let the reader becoming familiar with what is going on. Characters are first and foremost plot points, then characters. I think that Erikson's characterization is deep and interesting. Original and challenging. But sweeping changes happen so quickly and so deeply that the reader doesn't have ways to "familiarize".

What makes a book fun to read is the immersion, so the identification. The main reason why writers like Goodkind and Stephanie Mayer are popular is because those books rely heavily on a certain audience that is going to identify with the characters. In order to do so you need a lot of exposition about "slices of life". Something like "life before the plot". First you build the characters, introduce them to the reader, give them some normal life to which readers can connect (romance, school, for example). Then you trigger the plot that builds the tension. I used Goodkind and Mayer as an example, but even Tolkien worked like that. It starts with a birthday party. And Hobbits are a race shaped to welcome the reader through certain familiarities and quirks we all share. Shaped as "bridges" between the two worlds.

That's exactly the opposite of Erikson. No matter what book you read, what you find from the first page to the last is plot. Plot, plot and plot. Every step is a pivotal turn and the setting is already so alien and relying on its own mythology that it's nearly impossible for the normal reader to connect with it.

So this is the point. Characters suffer from lack of space. The prose and plotting is so dried to the essential that the story feels mechanical. It lacks naturalness. And this leads to all the critics about Erikson. That the first book is unreadable, that it's filled with deus ex machina and that the characters are shallow.

From the first page to the last the characters are involved and react to plot points, similarly to what may happen in the Silmarillion. There is no space for the familiarization and for characters to become accessible on an emotional level. The setting is so disconnecting and different that it's impossible to relate to it if not on a cognitive level that leaves out the emotional impact.

Example:
There's one particular aspect that involved Felisin in the second book. I've read reviews saying that Felisin is a flat character that sees no evolution, when to me it's one of the most fantastic and challenging journey. Problem is, most of these changes happen before the first page, and I'm not joking.

Felisin is Paran's sister. She only appears in a handful of lines of dialogue between Paran and Tavore in the first book. 99% of the readers will start book 2 without remembering that part. The deep changes that Felisin lives are only perceivable if one has an idea of how Felisin was BEFORE but this is never shown explicitly in the book.

Felisin is supposed to start as Paran's little sister. The naive, innocent character who spends all her time reading books, to whom Paran is protective (and then guilty for having left her). Opposed to her older sister, that is the antithesis. Cold, determined, assertive. During the second book Erikson cruelly tortures the typical "innocent character" in every way possible. And he shows how a life can shape a person. He shows how everything "beautiful" can become corrupt and mimic what it saw. How it can lose all that beauty, physical and emotional.

But all this is lost. Readers find Felisin as a disagreeable character, almost a villain. No change is perceived because the "first" Felisin is never shown, we just get the evil one. And this transition and its thematic effect is completely lost (along with the prologue, where Erikson narrates from the point of view of Felisin and only reveals last that she is chained. Who cares to see a chained character if no one remembered her?).

This is just an example but is the way I feel this series. I'm awed by how it's challenging and how it never takes the easy, predictable path. But it also feels like it overdoes and overreach, so becoming a niche product that only works when you give it enough dedication. And most readers aren't willingly to fill all the holes that Erikson left behind.

Hence the lack of vaster popularity.

Most writers know and use all their tricks to lure the reader and make them follow. Erikson uses none. Either you want to follow because you share a certain mindset, or he doesn't care and leaves you there.

Sunday 14, December

Malazan series grows to 22 (twenty-two) books + novellas

Meaning the Malazan Book of the Fallen series written mainly by Steven Erikson and then his friend, Ian Cameron Esslemont.

- The 10 books of the main series written by Erikson, with the ninth out in September 09.
- Two more future trilogies, also by Erikson, one working like a prequel, the other like a sequel.
- The two books already out by Esslemont, Night of Knives and Return of the Crimson Guard.

The recent announce is about Esslemont's agent signing a deal for four more books, with the first of the four to come out in 2010.

What are these new books about? Considering the old rumors, the next one will be titled "Stonewielder" and will deal with the Korel campaigns. Meaning Malazan empire stuff that probably fits in the middle of the main series.

The next one should be a book about Darujhistan revisited, but nothing more than this is known. Especially because it was all planned before Erikson wrote the eighth book also set in that same city.

This leaves out two more books. One should be about one continent, Assail, that was left almost in the dark in the main series. The other is supposed to be an epilogue to the main series.

So: 10 of the main series + 3 prequel trilogy + 3 sequel trilogy + 2 Esslemont books already out + 4 of the new book deal = 22 books total.

To add Erikson's novellas, that are the best thing he ever wrote up to the point where I am at reading.

Well, this alone deserves the title of EPIC. Especially because I think the quality is superb. This is becoming a hobby on its own.

Saturday 13, December

Ganoes Paran

Beautiful passage from Memories of Ice:

Aye, the truth of it. I won't be collared, Nightchill. And I tell you this, now, and you'd do well to take heed of these words. I'm taking a step forward. Between you and every mortal like me. I don't know what that man Gruntle had to lose, to arrive where you wanted him, but I sense the wounds in him - Abyss take you, is pain your only means of making us achieve what you want? It seems so. Know this, then: until you can find another means, until you can show me another way - something other than pain and grief - I'll fight you.

Told to a God, it makes quite an effect.

Which isn't the case of Kruppe, who has already the favor of a God:

'Cheats? Gods forbid! What hapless victims are witness to on this night of nights is naught but cosmic sympathy for worthy Kruppe.'

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