The cipher of the Malazan series

Beside the subtleties of plot, the Malazan series has two different main levels that represent the foundation of the whole thing: the first is the infinitesimal small, the (under)world within a single person, his perceptions, his feeling, his thoughts, his personal yourney; the second is the impossibly huge, the human condition, what embraces all of us.

Today I discovered a non-fiction letter/article by Erikson himself. After reading few lines I thought it was interesting, after reading some more I thought it was EXTRAORDINARY. He talks about his view on the whole series, then his experiences as archaeologist, and finally the perspectives of our world and our species. In the same way these themes have built the Malazan series, I think we can deduct some aspects of where the series will go with its conclusion.

His fiction is a way to elaborate his thoughts, and this article is like a deconstruction of the series itself, and the reason why it is extraordinary. We can see the core bared of all conceits.

Sometimes my series feels like a ten thousand page requiem for our species, or a long, drawn-out howl verging on utter despair; as I search in desperation for moral gestures of humanity, no matter how small, no matter how momentary, in the midst of self-inflicted carnage.

I write novels under the name of Steven Erikson. I am nearing completion of a ten book Fantasy series entitled ‘The Malazan Book of the Fallen.’ These novels are set on a fictitious world that is Homeric in nature—magic and meddling gods—but at a technological level somewhere around late Roman Empire. Progress has stalled, as magic has supplanted technological innovation. Unfortunately, magic is also highly destructive. While these epic novels seek to portray a history in an entertaining style, the underlying themes concern the life cycles of cultures and civilizations (including those of non-humans) against the backdrop of environmental degradation.

In the fourth novel in my series I introduced, rather brutally, a character emerging from an isolated tribal culture, who finds himself first a slave, then an escaped slave, within the far larger world of civilization of which he previously knew nothing. He ultimately concludes, after numerous travails, that civilization is an abomination, and so he vows to destroy it.

I recall standing on a pyramid in the Guatemalan jungle (back in ‘83), during the modern civil war (that had everything to do with land), and perversely feeling a strange optimism. After all, when the Mayan Priest-King stood where I was standing, only a few centuries ago, he could see the vast expanse of his demesne—planted fields out to every horizon. I’m sure he believed it would last forever (just as we believe our civilization will last forever, that we are somehow exempt from the rise and fall cycle that afflicted every previous civilization). He didn’t realize that his culture was unsustainable. That it was destined to collapse even before European contact. He believed as did the pre-Inca civilizations in Peru and Chile. Why did I feel optimistic? Because I was surrounded in jungle. The natural world had reclaimed everything. It had healed, and in a very short time.

Read on.

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