Saturday, August 28, 2010

Steven Erikson follow-up

Over at the Malazan Empire, Steven Erikson has posted some further thoughts on finishing his 10 book series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen:
Hello all.
In a response I just posted on the Life As A Human site (not in the last installment, the one before that, I think, the one with 30-odd comments), I described my feeling as if I have staggered out from under an enormous burden. And it was last week, on my facebook page, when I announced the closure of an adventure that has spanned almost thirty years of my life, from those wild ambitions of youth – all that manic gaming with Cam where we forged an entire world from our imaginations and from all that inspired us from the literary genre of Fantasy – to this ageing man stumbling free, finally, not yet ready to look back, not yet capable of making sense of all this, and it may be that I never will.
I look out the window on my left now, onto the High Street of Falmouth, watching the crowds moving back and forth, and it was while seated on this leather sofa about a week ago that I wrote the last line of The Crippled God, saying goodbye to the most extensive story I will ever tell. I’ve since joked that my next project is a twenty-four volume saga set in the same world, chronicling the life of a character from birth to seven years of age, whereupon said character is jailed for being a career criminal. Called The Malazan Book of the Felon. Flippancy can be a useful defense mechanism, for a while, but eventually the silence returns. 
On the speakers here in Mango Tango, Dylan asks ‘How does it feel?’ and that acerbic tone invites derision, in my case self-directed, as if a voice inside wants to say ‘big deal. Besides, mate, the best is now behind you.’ And I’m reminded of the last poem in the book, which invites something very different, as if to answer my self-doubts with a caustic regard for the willfully blind. What do I mean with all that? Wait and see. As for me, the willful blindness persists, and I see nothing ahead and nothing behind. I’m empty, and it feels all right.
I often remind myself that The Malazan Book of the Fallen will never challenge the bestsellers within the genre; will never achieve the broad appeal of, say, The Lord of the Rings, or even The Wheel of Time. But still, I feel an immense gratitude for the readers I have found – for you who participate on this site and for all the lurkers staying in the shadows. We have been in conversation for some time now, you and me, sharing an investment in time and energy; and while I have been the one in the know when you have speculated and wondered, the time is coming when the roles will reverse – when I am the one who can only look on, not knowing what is coming next, as you (hopefully) continue to explore the series, with all the authority that only fans can achieve.
So, I have already begun my wait. To see what you think. What you feel. To see all that you take from these books, and to see what you will make of them. Forgive me if I stay in the shadows. But this is now yours, not mine. And that is as it should be.
With gratitude,
Steven Erikson
The full thread is here.

Yeah, I don't know what to say about the completion of this series. It is simply the most profound, insightful, nuanced and moving piece of work I've ever read.

~

Thursday, August 26, 2010

N.K. Jemisin - Rites of Passage

N.K. Jemisin, whose first novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is out now, has an interview up at Locus Magazine, in which she discusses the importance of writing short stories, and how bored she is with typical, epic fantasy.
   ‘‘The original version was a typical epic fantasy – different chapters told from different characters’ perspectives so you could see the big picture, side trips to other countries, a heavier emphasis on getting the Item of Importance to the Location of Significance – much more traditional in structure. When I started rewriting it, I thought, ‘I’m just going to write the way I feel like writing.’ It might not be epic fantasy anymore, if epic fantasy requires those tropes, but I was changing everything anyway, so I decided just to see what would happen.‘‘
The interview is an interesting read, and made me wonder about how stale the 'Medieval European' fantasy setting has become.  I'm an easy mark for fantasy authors because something about that setting really resonates with me, so I don't feel it's overdone but it's true that there are many, many books that do little more than plop their characters down in the middle of hills and dales, and toss in a castle for luck.  

I haven't read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but I downloaded a sample to my iPad and, based on the first few chapters, I will be buying it.  I'll report back when I'm done.

~

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Malazan Re-read of the Fallen - GOTM Ch. 14 & 15

Amanda and Bill are up to Chapters 14 & 15 on their Malazan Re-read of the Fallen:
That bleak view of humanity is a constant undercurrent in this series and gives it a level of depth and seriousness that I at least really respond to. Lorn wondering if humans have inherited from the Imass along with the world, their single-minded focus on war and if humanity would also “bow to it [war] in immortal servitude, no more than deliverers of death.” And we get maybe the first direct questioning of whether the T’lan Imass war was perhaps not so benign as Lorn realizes the Jaghut would not have started the war. And we get the even more bleak sense of history repeating—this endless realization of humanity’s destructiveness and inability to do anything about it as “such tears had been shed before, and would be again . . . And the winds would dry them all.” Kallor, therefore, as the symbol of the whole human race: never learning, driven by ambition and desire for domination over people and the world itself to perform destruction upon destruction in either cruelty or obliviousness. In later books, we’ll see how much of this relates to our modern society. It’s a difficult view to argue against, I think.
 I am now up to chapter five of Memories of Ice (which, at this point, is my favourite novel in the sequence), and I have to admit that burning through the first three books in a month has brought all kinds of story details into sharp focus.  All the connective tissue is there, it's just that some of the story beats are only referred to once, or described differently by a secondary voice, which explains why this series can be so overwhelming.

~

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Malazan Re-read of the Fallen - GOTM Ch. 12 & 13

Amanda and Bill continue their in-tandem re-read of Steven Erikson's Malazan series.  They are up to Chapters 12 and 13 of Gardens of the Moon.
The demon is summoned by Baruk, I recall? And ooh, we get to see more of the Tiste Andii assassins now—sounds like they are out to destroy Ocelot’s team. Does this mean that they are aware of Quick Ben and Kalam? Are they protecting them? Or is their presence just incidental?
...And there was a very quick answer to that, as Kalam is targeted by one of the floating assassins! One thing that immediately struck me during this sharp little encounter is that Kalam is aware his opponent is female, but does not hold back at all. She is shown to be just as good as him at hand to hand, and they have an equal-ish skirmish. This again is a fantastic example of women being written in a strong and realistic manner by Erikson.
 If anyone has been confused by this series, and probably that's all of us, this is a good opportunity to get the plot lines straight, get some story clarification, or just to notice things you probably missed.  I tried to re-read along with Amanda and Bill, but now I'm 3/4 of the way through Deadhouse Gates.  Oops.

~

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Republic of Thieves - Excerpt

Scott Lynch has sent out what looks like Chapter 1 of his new novel, The Republic of Thieves.  Go to Camorr.com for a link to a rich text file that you can download and gorge yourself on.
Provided directly from an uncorrected manuscript of
The Republic of Thieves
for the reading pleasure of a certain group of people.
All contects Copyright 2010, Scott Lynch
This file may be passed from interested reader to interested reader, but may not be a) made avaialble in any public place save Camorr.com or b) transcribed and placed online in any other format or context. Violators of these rather tame stipulations will be flayed alive by methamphetamine-addled lemurs armed with chainsaws. Don't ask where my publishers get the money for stuff like that. 
The Republic of Thieves is book 3 of Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards sequence and is due to land next spring.

~

Revising, REvising.

Over on his blog, Pat Rothfuss (author of the excellent The Name of the Wind) has answered a fan enquiry about his revising process:


4. Added paragraph about the Mews.
5. Changed the name of a mythic figure in the world to something that sounds better.
6. Spent some time figuring out the particular mechanisms of sygaldry to prevent consistency problems.
Pat is currently revising A Wise Man's Fear, the much-delayed sequel to NOTW, due out March 2011.

~

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Malazan Re-read of the Fallen - GOTM Ch. 10 & 11

Amanda and Bill continue their Malazan Re-read of the Fallen with Chapters 10 & 11 of Gardens of the Moon, here:

Has to be said, so far Gardens of the Moon is both chockful of absolutely stunning, vibrant characters that you just want to read more and more about, and heavy with hints about future characters that will also steal our hearts and fill our thoughts. Erikson’s characterisation is just excellent.

My own re-read has zipped past Amanda and Bill's: I finished Gardens of the Moon last week and went straight to Deadhouse Gates, which I am about a quarter of the way through and loving every minute of.

This series is simply the best thing I've ever read, and a re-read just throws into relief what a remarkable achievement it is.
~

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Excerpt Day - Morgan and Abercrombie

Both Richard Morgan and Joe Abercrombie are pointing from their blogs to excerpts from their incoming novels.  Don't click the links if you want to go into these books knowing nothing at all.  Otherwise, have at it.  The Heroes link includes the full first chapter.

Richard Morgan's The Cold Commands, and from Joe Abercrombie (via the Gollancz websiteThe Heroes.

I'm excited about both these tiles and can't wait to take delivery of them.  This is turning out to be quite the year for contemporary fantasy fiction, what with the finale of the Malazan series, a new Malazan novel from Ian C. Esslemont, new books from Mssrs. Morgan and Abercrombie, plus, maybe, perhaps, possibly long-delayed sequels from Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch.

I must be careful not to read them too fast and get a too-much-fantasy headache.

~

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Crippled God - Blurb

Pat's Fantasy Hotlist has the blurb for the The Crippled God, the final book in Steven Erikson's remarkable 10 book series The Malazan Book of the Fallen:
Savaged by the K’Chain Nah’Ruk, the Bonehunters march for Kolanse, where waits an unknown fate. Tormented by questions, the army totters on the edge of mutiny, but Adjunct Tavore will not relent. One final act remains, if it is in her power, if she can hold her army together, if the shaky allegiances she has forged can survive all that is to come. A woman with no gifts of magic, deemed plain, unprepossessing, displaying nothing to instill loyalty or confidence, Tavore Paran of House Paran means to challenge the gods – if her own troops don’t kill her first.
Awaiting Tavore and her allies are the Forkrul Assail, the final arbiters of humanity. Drawing upon an alien power terrible in its magnitude, they seek to cleanse the world, to annihilate every human, every civilization, in order to begin anew. They welcome the coming conflagration of slaughter, for it shall be of their own devising, and it pleases them to know that, in the midst of the enemies gathering against them, there shall be betrayal.
In the realm of Kurald Galain, home to the long lost city of Kharkanas, a mass of refugees stand upon the First Shore. Commanded by Yedan Derryg, the Watch, they await the breaching of Lightfall, and the coming of the Tiste Liosan. This is a war they cannot win, and they will die in the name of an empty city and a queen with no subjects.
Elsewhere, the three Elder Gods, Kilmandaros, Errastas and Sechul Lath, work to shatter the chains binding Korabas, the Otataral Dragon, from her eternal prison. Once freed, she will rise as a force of devastation, and against her no mortal can stand. At the Gates of Starvald Demelain, the Azath House sealing the portal is dying. Soon will come the Eleint, and once more, there will be dragons in the world.
The Crippled God is due Feb 22 2011.
~

Location:Kolanse

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Born Queen

[SPOILSPORT: This post contains spoilers for The Born Queen by Greg Keyes.]

I began the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series infused with such joy and expectation. Book 1 was a genuine surprise and delight. It had some interesting characters, women that weren't doormats, some okay swordplay and a pretty good setup for a main story arc. Plus, it had a coven of highly trained, female assassins; a particular weakness of mine. I eagerly read that book and moved on to Book 2.

I thought the second book held things together well, but some niggling doubts were beginning to creep in. It often felt to me that the characters were going over the same ground, both thematically, within the context of their individual changes, and literally, geographically, treading the same parts of the landscape they'd previously been across.

It was also beginning to worry me that none of the major characters had died. I'm not normally an advocate for knocking off primary characters, but this story was turning out to be so safe, so plain and conservative. The narrative never opened up in a way that was surprising, it never came snapping and crackling off the page, I never felt that any of the major characters were in any real danger of being injured, which meant the story had no elasticity, no tension and release. It was just flat. Plus, it was full of reversals.

The screenwriter, William Goldman (author of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride) has written at length that he thinks he put too many reversals into Butch and Sundance, which had a deleterious effect on the film's forward momentum. And the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series is full of reversals. A character is sent to meet up with a friendly escort and when they arrive it turns out the escort is now their enemy. Another character, who thus far has been a villain, turns out suddenly to be a good guy, after all. The villain, who has been doing dastardly things all along is suddenly revealed to be not so bad at all. The books are packed with these moments. I think the author believed they would create drama but they had the opposite effect: after half a book of this nonsense I stopped trusting anything the writer did. I didn't believe any of the character motivations; I disengaged from the story and all the tension drained out of it. By about a quarter of the way through Book 4 I couldn't wait for it to be over.

Now, I'm not claiming that I want a moral landscape that is clearly black and white. That is the opposite of what interests me; I want to read about characters that are morally complex; I want to read about people who are shaded, capable of showing humanity and compassion as well as cruelty; but that's not what's going on in this series. Greg Keyes isn't being true to the nature of his characters, he's written melodrama, where the action is driven by the plotting and not by the characters internal motivations and consistencies. Instead of making magic, Keyes' has pulled a magic trick and I can see him palming the card.

By the end of Book 4 almost no one is acting according to their nature as established in the previous three books. And with the exception of Cazio (the sole character I continued to adore) and Sir Neil (whose dour dedication to some knightly notion of duty was really getting up my nose) I hated everyone. This is a story that could easily have been contained by one book, maybe two, if the editor wanted to keep in some of the marbling. But by stretching it and staking it out across four books all the flaws in the main arc are exposed. There is no main arc, because it keeps being reversed and refreshing itself. I suppose Anne's journey from Princess to Mage Queen could be a thread that is followed all the way through but the character named Anne at the end of the series is not a person I recognized from the previous three titles. And that's an huge problem. We need a lifeline, we need someone to take us on the journey and it's fine if they change, better if they change, but if they become a completely different person then the things about them that made us trust them and fall in love with them are also gone. By the end, Anne was just a plot device, just like Stephen, and Aspar, and Fend, and The Kept, and The Blood Knight, and even The Briar King himself. All of them cyphers, faint echoes set in motion so they could serve a plot that became meaningless when it stopped being about people I cared for.

~

Location:Crotheny

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Heroes Blurb

Joe Abercrombie has posted the final copy for his upcoming novel, The Heroes:
“They say Black Dow’s killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls.  The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbour, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher.  The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud.  Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they’ve brought a lot of sharpened metal with them. 
Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield.  Obsessed with redemption and addicted to violence, he’s far past caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt.  Even if it’s his own.
Prince Calder isn’t interested in honour, and still less in getting himself killed.  All he wants is power, and he’ll tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it.  Just as long as he doesn’t have to fight for it himself.
Curnden Craw, the last honest man in the North, has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves.  He hardly even cares who wins any more, he just wants to do the right thing.  But can he even tell what that is with the world burning down around him?
Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided.  But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail…
Three men.  One battle.  No Heroes.”
That sounds grand!  I can't wait to get stuck into it.  I wonder who else we'll meet from one of Joe's other books?  I like very much that he brings back characters from previous timelines.  I feel like it gives his world a cohesion and breadth, a consistency that makes it feel more authentic.

Look for The Heroes  January 20 2011.  It is available for pre-order from Amazon U.K. right now.

~

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Crossing The Rubicon

In 1995, Nicholas Negroponte (he of the 'One Laptop Per Child' program) wrote a book of prophecy called 'Being Digital' in which he basically predicted a Kindle or iPad-like device which would be used, Mr. Negroponte claimed, to aggregate and consume news media, magazines and novels.

Last weekend I bought an iPad. Actually, let me back up. A few months ago I pre-ordered, from Amazon, a fantasy anthology. The title was a hardback edition and I think was priced at around $45. Last weekend I bought an iPad and immediately downloaded the iBooks application and the Kindle app. I searched iBooks for 'Steven Erikson' and, returning no results, I opened the Kindle app. I was surprised and delighted to be told, upon logging in, that I would have 620,000 titles to choose from. I downloaded the first two books in the 'Malazan Book of the Fallen' series ($8 or $9 each), grinned and resumed my time travel.

Cut to this morning when Amazon sent me an email informing me that they were having trouble locating copies of my pre-ordered anthology and would I like to cancel the order?  I hesitated, my fingering hovering over the link. Then I grabbed my iPad and dialed up iBooks. They had the title. And it was $11.99. Click.

And there it was. No fuss. No waiting for delivery.  A digital download, easy as Pi. And as I opened the book and read the introduction, a thought came to me, "I guess that's it for me and hardcopies of books."

I don't yet know if it is over between us.  I can't quite see myself never again going into a bookstore and picking up something that catches my eye.  But when it is made this easy to get a new title that I've been excited about... Well, the purveyors of downloadable books make a compelling argument.

I once thought that I could never surrender compact discs; I liked very much the physical media, the album art, the actual discs themselves, and I worried, if I began buying digital music, about somehow losing my collection, either via HDD failure or corporate malfeasance.  What if they were taken back, somehow?  

Well, now I never buy actual CDs, unless it's an item that I just cannot find in a download.  The two boxes of discs I packed for our last move (two years ago) sit still packed in a closet, waiting for me to get up the energy to sell them, or give them away.  Digital downloads are just too convenient.  Sula and I recently watched the movie The Book of Eli which has a soundtrack I really liked, and after the film was over I went upstairs to my computer and search, $14.99, click.  Lovely.

I love books. I love fondling them. I love taking them off the shelf and randomly dipping into them. I love seeing a series all lined up sequentially on the shelf. I love the smell of the pages. But I won't be sad if I never again have to lug around a fat new fantasy book of 1000 pages or more (and lets face it, most of the books I really love weigh in at hernia, and I often have a tough time standing on the Subway and holding the latest doorstop with one hand). No more scuffed and creased covers.  No more loose bindings or pages falling out.  And in a home like ours, with two voracious, insatiable readers, no more having to move to a new house just to make room for additional bookshelves.

I guess there's the issue of having the battery run out on my electronic machine, or having it die.  And for someone like me, a person who is so terrified of having nothing with him to read that for 25 years, has carried a book just in case he had to go to casualty.  Well, that feels like a very real concern.  But weighed against all the advantages of a digital copy, it doesn't make sense for me to resist making the switch.  With a digital book I can make the font larger or smaller (or even change it), I can adjust the brightness of the screen in less than optimal lighting conditions; I can make notes and highlight sections, and I can preserve the book's condition.  The only question left for me, I think, is how I will handle reading a book whose story is so derisible it makes me want to throw it across the room.  That could get expensive.
~

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen - GOTM Ch. 8 & 9

Amanda and Bill are up to Chapters 8 & 9 in their re-read of Gardens of the Moon:
This level of analysis in a book is unheard of for me—I am a reader who quite often skims. To sit and have to contemplate who a character might be is forcing me to slow down—and, I have to say, the reading experience is that much more rewarding. I am not having those usual moments in a book where I think “now I know I’ve met this character before—who were they?” Or, I mean I am, but only as a result of Erikson wanting me to think this rather than because I am reading too quickly and skimming over details. Has anyone else had to adjust their reading method while tackling GotM and later Malazan books?
My own re-read of GOTM is almost over.  I'm closing in on Chapter 21, and am surprised by two things: 


1)  How much less complicated the book feels with my wide-angle lens, and
2)  How much foreshadowing it contains.


I've found references to Icarium; I didn't even notice Silverfox makes an appearance the first time I read it; there is a warning about the Seer of the Pannion Domin beginning his Holy War; all kinds of mentions of the Crimson Guard and many other moments that had me stop and marvel at how clearly Erikson saw the whole arc of the series, right from the start.  I have a few new titles that are beckoning to me right now - K.J. Parker's The Folding Knife, Mark Charon Newton's Nights of Villjamur, and the finale of Brian Ruckley's Godless World Trilogy -  but I am very tempted to just swing straight into Deadhouse Gates.  Re-reading GOTM has been such a delight.


~

Monday, August 2, 2010

Joe Abercrombie and Editing

Over on his blog, Joe Abercrombie has been writing about the editing process on his latest book, The Heroes:
I find writing to be a bit like pouring cement, in that when you draft a scene or first revise it, it’s fluid, you can slap it about into new shapes, cut and improve it with abandon.  By the time you’ve gone through this many read throughs and refinements, it seems to have set hard, and even quite minor alterations can be a time-consuming effort to get your head round.  Often, when my editor suggests a significant change, tells me I should consider doing a certain scene a different way, my first utterly irrational thought is – “but … that’s not what happened.”  Then I gradually and with extremely bad grace concede that she might be right.  Then I do it, realise she was right, and pretend it was my idea all along.

I'm a film and video editor and find his comments about pouring cement and then it setting to be very similar to my work. When I first began in this field I often had to force myself to remember that the material can, and indeed should be changed after it's begun to set. Sometimes a producer will be sitting right there with me in the suite and sometimes they'll send me a list of notes (changes to make) either way it's a very collaborative process and one I enjoy very much. I wonder if I would like it so much if, instead of spending a few weeks cutting together a rough cut from material someone else had shot and collated, I'd spent multiple years crafting the work word by word?

~