Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Questions for Steven Erikson

As the Malazan Re-read of the Fallen wraps up over at Tor.com, Amanda and Bill plan to mark the completion of Book 1 by having Steven Erikson stop by to answer questions:
Next week we will be wrapping up Gardens of the Moon in our Malzan reread with a look at the last chapter and epilogue and then a broad reaction to the book as a whole. The following week Steven Erikson will be here answering selected questions.
Selected from where, you ask? Why, from here, of course! From you few, you happy few, you band of rereaders... So think of what you’d like to ask Steven (just Steven on this one, Cam will do the same at the end of our Night of Knivesdiscussion) and put the question in the comments here or in this Wednesday’s coming reread discussion thread.
We’ll compile them all, weed out any repetitions, then send them along to Steven for his answers (or non-answers as may be the case—you know these author types). So start the questions coming; the sooner the better.
 So, if you have things to ask Mr. Erikson, or if you just want to say thanks for a remarkable series, head over to the comments section of this page and leave your mark.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Folding Knife

                                     “Violence is an admission of defeat” - Bassianus Severus

There’s a rumour that K.J. Parker, author of The Folding Knife, is really J.K. Rowling in disguise.  There’s another rumour that Parker is actually the partner of writer Tom Holt (witness this interview which people are using as evidence to support that claim).  I don’t see it myself.  I’ve never read a Harry Potter book, but based on the flavour, the waft, of that series, which I’ve absorbed via osmosis, I suppose it could be her.  In any event, for whatever reasons, Ms. Parker (who has revealed her sex) is a writer who wishes to remain anonymous.  Her barren Wikipedia page tells us, “...she has worked in law, journalism and numismatics, and now writes and makes things out of wood and metal”.  Numismatics.  Delicious.

The Folding Knife is clearly the work of either a preternaturally gifted writer, or a very experienced one.  The style is light and breezy, almost conversationalChapters begin with “The first thing anyone knew of it was...” and “Quite suddenly, the war was ready.”  Characters are described in quick, easy arcs, “His nose was so large that Basso wondered if he’d had it cut off someone else and sewn on special.”  (The prologue is a particular stand-out, vying with the prologue of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind for most compelling opening of the last few years.)  The prose is flowing and sometimes disarmingly poignant; this book can be laugh-out-loud funny, but is also very, very sad.  

It’s the story of Basso The Magnificent, the First Citizen (sort of a Prime Minister, but without a Monarch to kowtow to) of the Vesani Republic.  The novel is set in a vaguely renaissance, vaguely Mediterranean Empire, where skills in banking and commerce are highly prized and it follows Basso from childhood to late-middle age.  There are three or four main characters, and a half dozen minor, but we don’t get to know anyone as well as we come to understand Basso.  The book is third person, but is told through Basso’s lens.  I’m not certain, but now that I consider it, Basso may be in almost every scene.  Although that impression could also be a consequence of Parker’s writing style.

Almost all the battle scenes in the book are relayed second-hand, from one character to another; either via letters or by telling them.  That conveys to us a great deal about the character doing the telling, which was probably Parker’s intention, but because the prose is so light, the scenes rendered with such a delicate touch, this meant that I felt distanced from the action.  I felt a bit like I was reading the book through a keyhole.  I also would have liked a bit more meat on some of the secondary characters, but since it’s really Basso’s story I can see why we are only privy to his opinions and conclusions about the people in his orbit.

I loved this book, though and I burned through it in a few days.  The Folding Knife feels very airy and superficial but that tone is deceptive and the novel left a mark on me.  The pacing is well tuned, the story contains some surprising twists, and I couldn’t help be drawn in by Basso and his obsessions.  Parker has talked a bit about the fact that she doesn’t write villains, in the usual sense, and Basso is an excellent example.  Why do people do horrible things?  Does someone lose their humanity because of the things they’ve done?  In The Folding Knife, context is all.  This book is both very funny and very tragic and highly recommended.  


Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Malazan Re-read of the Fallen - GOTM Ch. 22 & 23

Bill and Amanda continue their re-read of Gardens of the Moon. here:
Gosh, we are certainly reaching the business end of the tale now! Finally we see that the Malazans have identified the T’orrud Cabal as the true power in Darujhistan, and the contact with the Assassins’ Guild always involved making a contract for their lives. This is terrible! I love the Bridgeburners, but I really enjoy reading about members of the T’orrud Cabal as well! Having affections on both sides of a conflict makes me torn. Interesting that Kalam had not realised that the Cabal were in cahoots with the Lord of Moon’s Spawn; and also that Vorcan is a High Mage (I can’t recall if we were told that explicitly before?)


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Post-Modernism in Fantasy

Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn series and the recently published The Way of Kings has written an article about post-modernism in Fantasy:
Fantasy (and the epic in particular) hit a postmodern stage with remarkable speed. Tolkien was so remarkably dominant, so genre-changing, that reactions to him began immediately. And, since so much of the audience was familiar with his tropes (to the point that they quickly became expected parts of the genre), it was easy to build upon his work and change it. You could also argue that the Campbellian monomyth (awareness of which was injected into the veins of pop culture by George Lucas) was so strong in sf/f that we were well prepared for our postmodern era to hit. Indeed, by the late ’70s, the first major postmodern Tolkienesque fantasy epic had already begun. (In the form of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever.)
I'm not sure I really understand what post-modernism is in literature, apart from vaguely thinking it has something to do with the book being aware of itself as a book, a constructed piece of work, like having a baker named Dough, or a heavy infantry soldier named Shield.  I think Martin Amis is considered a post-modern author because he names his characters based on their jobs and frequently pops up in his books as himself; the author Martin Amis.

Post-modern seems like a heavy label for a book to wear.  It's like a signpost pointing to a place on the map that hasn't been charted: this book changes things.  It doesn't just tell a ripping story, it also winks knowingly at the reader.

I don't really read straight fiction any more, but I liked James Joyce's Ulysses, often considered one of the best post-modern novels, and I'm not sure I know enough about the history of Fantasy fiction to be able to notice when I'm being winked at.  As far as I can tell, as long as a fantasy novel isn't about a naive farmer discovering they have royal blood; isn't set in another pastiche of some nameless medieval European city state with faux-Tudor architecture; and isn't about a Dark Lord/Nameless Menace/Rising Evil then, for fantasy fans, it's post-modern.

I think Mr. Sanderson's article is interesting (mostly for the insights into his own writing process), but I think that before Fantasy can begin to de-construct itself there needs to be more varied examples of it.  The genre is still struggling with its legacy of sexism and male power fantasy wish-fulfillment.  Let's see more female origin stories, more varied and interesting world-building, more inventive and daring plotting, and less reliance on the tropes - Elves, Barbarians, Wizards - that were already stale 40 years ago.  Is a Fantasy novel post-modern because it doesn't have dwarves in it?  Or because it genuinely stretches the genre in a new and interesting direction.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Malazan Re-read of the Fallen - GOTM Ch. 20 & 21

Amanda and Bill are up to Chapters 20 & 21 in their Malazan Re-read of the Fallen:
The exchange between Circle Breaker and the other guard, Berrute, showcases a number of the matters we have discussed previously in the comments to each post: an extremely minor character being given a name and a few tidbits of history; and a discussion between two characters being used to add flavour and depth to the novel, rather than just saying “Circle Breaker was able to swap shifts with another guard to enable him to be present at Lady Simtal’s fete.” Would love to know Circle Breaker’s proper name!
I am enjoying reading along, but wish that Bill would provide more of his own commentary as a re-reader, instead of commenting on the assumptions Amanda is making.  I feel like we get the perspective of a new reader and a veteran perspective on that.  I think Bill should be writing more about the things he is discovering and noticing on his re-read.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Enhanced E-Book of 'The Heroes'

I know, people are very passionate abut their books.  I am, too.  It took me a long time to understand that books are not sacred objects and that they can be sold or given away once finished.  Two of the last three books I've read were e-books consumed via my iPad and I found reading a digital book to be a very satisfying experience; convenient, and with added benefits (like a backlight, and not having to awkwardly hold a book open while reading laying on my side, in bed).  I would describe myself as an e-book convert.  And, while still in its infancy, with all the growing pains that entails (what's with the horrendous typo and grammar errors in the Kindle editions I read?) I believe it's only a matter of time before the e-book industry gains momentum and more general acceptance.

To help things along, Joe Abercrombie has just announced an enhanced e-book edition of his new novel The Heroes:
For those of you who might have more than a passing interest in fascinating insights into the development of my writing, and of The Heroes specifically, here’s the package we’ve come up with for an enhanced ebook of The Heroes.  Alright, alright here’s the package my editor’s come up with:

  • Full Text of The Heroes
  • Unabridged Audiobook of The Heroes, narrated by Stephen Pacey
  • Introduction by the author
  • Afterword by the editor
  • In depth behind-the-scenes interview with the author (in text, audio, and possibly video), covering genesis of the idea for the book, influences, discussion of the six central characters, the writing process, the revision process from plan to completion, the importance of maps, the development of the cover
  • Five maps showing the battlefield, and unit positions at the start of each day of the battle
  • A dramatis personae
  • A 20,000 word planning document, with rough early plans, character sketches, and more detailed plans for each part
  • Several chapters presented at varying stages of revision, annotated by the author to illustrate the editing process
  • Cover file – all the briefs, sketches, and rough versions of the different elements of the cover, and of the combined cover, hopefully with some commentary from the award-winning artists and designer
  • Author biography
  • Links to other interviews and relevant websites and blogs
  • Archive of all blog posts during the writing and editing period
  • In due course, I hope we’ll be able to add The Fool Jobs, a short story featuring characters from The Heroes, though that may not be available until later in 2011
That extra content looks fascinating, and resembles the kind of special edition treatment that movies often receive on DVD.  I'm surprised no one thought of doing this before.  Perhaps they have but no one told me.


Steven Erikson on Dialogue

Steven Erikson writes here about dialogue and how one should avoid having a character who exists purely to provide exposition:
You know the classic fantasy scene from AD&D where you walk into a tavern and ask somebody something and they actually tell you everything you need to know? Hate ‘em. No, hate’s too gentle a word. Despise. A perfect example of using dialogue to convey information – at the expense of character, realism, even imagination. Awful. Lazy. Insulting. Has this character no life beyond sitting there waiting to tell you all you need to know? No motivations? No secret likes, dislikes, fears, loves, weaknesses, hidden scars, sad memories?
Interesting stuff.  Particularly if you've just done a re-read of Gardens of the Moon, because he uses a scene from that book as an example of what he's writing about.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Malazan Re-read of the Fallen - GOTM Ch. 18 & 19

Bill and half of Amanda (who is on holiday) continue their re-read of the Malazan series.  They are up tp chapters 18 & 19 of Gardens of the Moon:
Erikson employs one of his usual suspense techniques here, shifting between POVs and scenes quickly so the reader is constantly left wondering. Is Coll going to make it? Is Rallick? Will Paran break the sword? Will Rallick get Mallet in time? Will Mallet be able to heal Coll? Erikson shows some good decision-making as well in breaking up the whirlwind of tension with some humor as Mallet examines the wound and discovers “someone’s stuffed this with herbs!”
 Also today. Kate Elliot's new book Cold Magic became available for download on iBooks.  I have a few titles jostling to be the next book I read but this may be the front runner.  A trip to North Bay this weekend may be just what I need to burn through Kate's latest.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Malazan Re-read of the Fallen - GOTM Ch. 16 & 17

Amanda and Bill are up to Chapters 16 & 17 on their Malazan Re-read of the Fallen:
That Rake/Baruk scene is one of my favorite Rake scenes (and I have a lot of Rake scenes I enjoy). We’ve discussed how often Erikson plays with point-of-view to leave us thinking one thing and then switches over to reveal we weren’t playing with a full deck, so to speak. But in this case, I immediately bought Rake’s sincerity in describing his sense of duty and eight books later I have yet to question that first impression of sincerity. 
 Interesting stuff for new and veteran Erikson readers alike.