A Memory of Light: Follow-up to outrage

Two aspects still stand after all the discussions on the forums and blogs:

1- I consider going above 700k excessive. Before Jordan died the book was tentatively scheduled for a late 2008 release. When he died fans expected that he was, if not near the conclusion, well into the book. So the fans were expecting another writer to be called to COMPLETE the book and fill the missing parts. Months later there was a SHOCKING revelation that no one has taken for what it meant simply out of respect. Jordan was nowhere near the end of the book. In fact he was nowhere even near the middle. He left 50k words of prose and a bunch of notes and an outline that fans suppose/hope is well detailed. The truth (and I say this because telling the truth is more respectful than telling lies) is that Jordan wouldn’t have possibly completed the book. Not a chance since he wrote 50k in two years. This means that Sanderson wasn’t going to complete some missing parts, but he was going to do the GREAT MAJORITY of the work.

Now, with the recent growth of the book to excessive levels (we moved from a target of 400k to 800k in just a few months), we are looking at a book of 800-900k against 50k written by Jordan. This can’t be anymore possibly be called “completing” a book. Not even co-writing. Since it seems that the majority of those 50k Jordan wrote are the prologue and last chapter, then it’s likely that the middle book of the new trilogy will have NO JORDAN WORDS in it. Every passing month Sanderson bit a bigger piece of the pie. If we make a proportion WITH THE WHOLE series and all eleven books Jordan wrote, Sanderson, with one book, is writing a 21.4% of the thing. More than twenty fucking percent. This isn’t about closing plot threads following Jordan’s outline, this is about taking the task to a whole new level. This is FAR from the idea of completing the book, and month after month Sanderson is taking more for himself. Way past the essence of the initial deal and respect for Jordan. It isn’t about carefully respecting the original work and write exactly what is needed to give the book a proper conclusion within what is possible with what Jordan left. It is about taking control and writing a new tangent.

Have the courage to take Jordan name off the cover. Because he is surely not the writer of THIS book.

2- I’m extremely annoyed with the rhetoric being used, including Harriet.

To the complaints about the three volumes split people across forums are replying with “it was impossible for one volume”. No one is answering WHY THE BOOK COULDN’T BE SPLIT IN TWO.

This defies logic. It’s a stupid argument and exposes a lack of truthfulness.

This piece from Harriett is offensive of intelligence:

The material that Jim left was very capacious, and Brandon saw after working with it for a while that he could not complete it in less than a total of 750,000 words. This is probably an impossible thing to bind – unless we sold it with a magnifying glass. 250,000 words is in fact a fat, or Rubensesque, novel. You will notice that 3 x 250,000 equals 750,000. So… part of the decision was based on making a book within the scope of binding technology.

The argument used to counter those who complained about the split in three is saying that the book was impossible to bind in one. So they are going to bind it in three.

“You will notice that 3 x 250,000 equals 750,000”? No. I notice that you are bullshitting me. Why, if the book couldn’t be done in one, couldn’t it be done in two? Why aren’t you answering that?

Because this is also a fraud. Because this is a deceit and “impossible thing to bind” is, obviously, NOT the TRUE reason behind the split. That’s all. And they are too cowards to admit what is the true reason. Hypocrites.

Those are the two main points. If Jordan wrote 50k and an outline, then writing 900k means going WAY BEYOND the original intent Sanderson was given. Secondly, while the split in two was justified by a so huge book, a split in three is just evidence of publisher’s greed that trumps respect for a writer to whom they owe a lot.

Quotes from the forums:

Stego: The man stood up from his seat and shouted to a room of fans that it would be one more book, he raised his voice louder and gesticulated and stated that if it had to be the size of three phone books, so be it. He would make sure it happened, publishers be damned.

When I asked him about it later, he stated that no matter what happened, no matter what he had to do, he would make sure it was only one more book. What is hard to grasp about that? TOR and Sanderson are going against his wishes.

Have you read the garbled ramblings that were The Wheel of Time 7-10? TOR would let him get away with anything. But now that he’s dead, they feel as if they can do whatever they damn well choose.

Gyrehead: I guess my point is, for good or ill, this is no longer Robert Jordan’s A Memory of Light but rather the Estate of Robert Jordan’s A Memory of Light. If Sanderson was comign in to fill in the blanks it would be one thing. But he’s not. He is essentially writing the book with a leaping off point of Jordan’s overall scheme and a few passages already written. That is it. This book is for Jordan. Or more for Tor making money and the bleating fans who long before Jordan was even ill fretted and moaned and wet themselves in frustration as to when the series would be finished. Not how. Not how well. But just when. Now they get their wish. Because “finishing” the series is what was the most important thing. In fact such comments exist in this thread. Neverminding the head in the sand approach to the fact that the series will remain unfinished in terms of Robert Jordan writing the book and getting his clearly grandiosely deluded belief it would be one book (especially as Jordan in Atlanta was already talking about over 1200 pages post-manuscript publishing before he did more than organize the files he had left over from the last book).

I respect Jordan’s work. I even had a liking for him despite his overinflated opinion of himself. Mainly because even with all his one book more foolishness before he even put pen to paper (Jordan was the last author that should have written to order), he still took all his fame and glory as a writer as a huge unexpected privilege and never ever took that for granted. And I will even read Sanderson’s Tor Inhouse fanboi special franchised “ending”. But in terms of respecting Jordan’s wishes? Well that train left the station long ago since Tor went aahead with Harriet’s guidance and input and took the route of having Sanderon write the book. Write the book. Not edit it . Write it. The fact that the book will bear Jordan as “author” smacks more of V.C. Andrews than it doesn’t. It is Brandon Sanderson trying to pretend to be Robert Jordan and hoping that all those fans who just wanted it done no matter what , no matter by what author, will line up, baa quietly and pony up the lucre for the tome no matter how thick and no matter many volumes it takes. This was about Tor managing to make a profit and a very concerted effort to just please fans eager to suck at the teat of WoT even if it is wetnurse offering the pap. Worrying about Jordan’s wishes? Even if he had written it in full or significant part? WEll why does he get that accord? I mean WoT as it is, is still my favorite series as a whole. And it no doubt will remain so for some time to come if not in perpetuity. But I still think silly posturing and blowhard over expectations deserve to be ignored politely. Whether it is a living deluded guru like Goodkind or an author I feel we lost well before his time like Jordan. death doesn’t turn stupid, or at least in this cae foolishness, into sanctity.

I should say that regardless of the above, I think that Tor shouldn’t make any decisions until Sanderson finishes the whole book. Because it should be treated as a whole book no matter how many volumes it takes to do the final book. The approach now in what is being reported is that even with a “natural” cut off point that Sanderson seems so happy about, it ceases to become a single volume even in spirit if he stops writing.

A Memory of Light: a mountain of bullshit

I knew I was right when I said that bad rumors were true rumors, and to expect pointless justifications.

Here’s the press release:

Harriet McDougal said on the process behind A Memory of Light: “The scope and size of the novel was such that it could not be contained in a single volume.


President and Publisher of Tor Books, Tom Doherty, also expressed his happiness with A Memory of Light, saying: “It is a magnificent closure to a great American epic fantasy whose journey began almost twenty years ago. There is no way Robert Jordan would have squeezed it to a single volume, and somehow it seems fitting that what began as a trilogy will also end as one.”

Unrespectful bullshit.

Followed by Brandon Sanderson own long apology list:

By this point, I’d already warned Tom and Harriet that I saw the length being very large, but I hadn’t told Tom the 700-800k number. When I’d mentioned 400k to him once, he’d been wary. He explained to me that he felt 400k was unprintably large in today’s publishing market.

Bullshit. Their catalog is filled with similar unprintable books, even bigger.

Tom and I were on a panel together, talking about AMoL. I noted that (by that point) I had around 250k written. He said something like “Ah, so you’re almost done!” I looked chagrined and said “Actually, I feel that I’m only about 1/3 of the way there, Tom.” He blinked, shocked, and then laughed a full bellied laugh. “It’s happening again!” he exclaimed. “Jim sold me one book that somehow became three, and now it’s happening again!”

Said while his eyes were turning into dollar symbols. What an awesome way to milk all those stupid fans out there!

I started to lobby Harriet subtly, pointing out that previous Wheel of Time books had been 380k, and perhaps that would be a good length for each Volume of AMOL, if it was cut.

It is quite obvious that a book exceeding 500k is getting unhandy. I have Atlas Shrugged that is 600k crammed in 1000 pages. The book actually still sells a lot (for all the idiot claims about too long books), but it’s unhandy. You could add more pages and adjust the typeset for a better result, but I’d put a limit at 500k or so.

What ISN’T obvious at all is that A Memory of Light needed 800k. This is bullshit. This is about a writer and a publisher capering in the air to find the fanciest justification for just one thing: greed.

Greed to put the hands on someone else’s work and make it one’s own. Greed for money. Greed for publicity and attention. It’s taking advantage of someone else’s work.

One thing is to take up the job, read carefully all that is written, and try to complete the book the best way as possible. Another is to start enjoying being part of the process and decide to go all over the place. Because you feel that what you are writing is now entirely yours. And so start to see all the possibilities and enjoy adding whatever you want. The bigger the book, the more “Brandon Sanderson”‘s property grows, owning more and more of the series. He isn’t anymore a guest. He wants to be co-owner. Every month he takes another chunks and justifies another growth. Every month he asks more and rises the stakes.

800k taken out the 50k or so Jordan left isn’t anymore completing a book. It’s writing a new tangent that goes in a totally different direction.

800k doesn’t mean “cool, that gets us three books”. 800k screams for something gone wrong.

800k doesn’t mean “write more, we have three volumes to fill now”. It means, okay let’s make two. Whatever goes beyond, needs to be cut.

Boycott A Memory of Light. Do not buy it.

Confidence in Brandon Sanderson doing a good job: -100%

Saying that this is the book Jordan wanted to write is the same as saying that Kevin J. Anderson’s Dune books are the books Frank Herbert would have written.

WoW reached its peak, will decline now. Smart people at GDC are cheating you.

1- Blizzard has no competition and they don’t need to try anymore to stay ahead. There isn’t any need to fight even on the last thousands of players. They win, everyone else lost. Game over.

The patches are getting slower and more insubstantial, filled with pages of convoluted class changes. It’s quite obvious that the there’s no creative push behind this and that they are only trying to please the current many subscribers, especially the ones still heavily invested in the game. There is no attempt to reach further.

It’s also quite obvious that resources are being moved. A while ago Blizzard was only working on WoW. Now they have WoW, Starcraft, Diablo and another MMO project. They were never able to do more than one thing at once and now the focus will start to shift. As always in this industry you only see the effect of what happens behind the scenes a few years later. It starts now, the effect will come later.

The lead designer, Jeff Kaplan, left WoW to move on the new project. We know only of the public figures but it is obvious that he is followed by many more that work in the back.

WoW is now in the (un)capable hands of Kalgan. Have fun.

2- Lum quoted various pieces from a conference (where industry people only go to feel proud, boast their cultivated shortsightedness, feel validated among equals, avoid challenges, avoid reality, shake hands, and whose game design relevance is a negative number) where Jeff Kaplan talks about quest design. Jeff Kaplan is in my “good guys book” and I’m not entirely sure if he was mocking the audience thinking that they would only grasp the superficial level anyway, and so talk in a language they could understand.

It’s not the specific of what he says to be wrong, it’s the overall sense. I only read Lum quotes but those ideas were considered good ideas “on paper” that revealed to be poor in practice. Bottom line: these ideas should be avoided.

That’s a wrong conclusion. Wrong interpretation. It’s about trying to understand aspects of the game with only one rigid model. That’s the inner flaw. It’s not in the quest ideas, it’s in the approach.

Everyone of those examples isn’t just a “good idea on paper”. Gone bad in practice. Why? Because it obviously was a bad idea even in paper? Nope. It was a possibly good idea with an inappropriate execution.

That’s the point: good ideas with bad execution. All of them.

Take the example of the quest in Stranglethorn. The idea is cool. It is also not an obligatory quest, so if you don’t like the added layers you can always skip it. Where’s the big flaw of that quest? Not in the concept. It’s in the limits of the inventory. So. You may solve the problem by erasing the quest entirely. Or you may fix the one problem. In this case you could create a container object that takes 1 slot in the inventory and that can contain all the parts that can be then taken and sold in the auction, traded or whatever.

“For a single quest to consume 19 spaces in your bags is just ridiculous.”

That’s right. That’s why you solve the one problem, as the cool concept behind the quest wasn’t to consume all those spaces, but to create an economy and add a new layer.

Now this is an example, but every one else following is the seed of the same consideration: inappropriate quest concepts because they don’t fit the standard framework. Not BAD quest concepts. Just quest concepts that step out of the limited tools given.

Problem is the framework, not the material. The problem is execution, not quest concepts. Given that implementation, the quest didn’t work. But this doesn’t make it an universally bad quest that wouldn’t or can’t work in other cases.

The “quest chains” aren’t bad because of what they are. They are bad because the quest UI is standardized and doesn’t support them properly (in fact the only way to see even a short chain quest is to use MODs like Wowhead). It’s again a flaw in the framework. You are bringing creative ideas to a framework that doesn’t support them. Either you dump all creative quest concepts, or you invest in programmers that expand the framework to support new quest types properly. But, again, the rigidness of a framework is the real true cause of a good or bad idea applied to it. Its context.

So enjoy your GDC. Either I’m overestimating Kaplan, or he was there just to deceive you with apparent sincerity. He keeps the good lessons (solutions) for himself.

Ubiq on this as well. That would lead to think that he doesn’t get it either, but look further, deeper. That’s the hidden war he’s doing to Bioware. His purpose is there. Nowadays when devs have an hard time to impose themselves internally, they rant externally.

Famous Last (Lost) Words

Damon Lindelof talking about Lost (TV) mythology, some time ago:

“We’re still trying to be … firmly ensconced in the world of science fact,” he said in an interview. “I don’t think we’ve shown anything on the show yet … that has no rational explanation in the real world that we all function within. We certainly hint at psychic phenomena, happenstance and … things being in a place where they probably shouldn’t be. But nothing is flat-out impossible. There are no spaceships. There isn’t any time travel.”

Then I guess I’m quite right when I said that Lost degraded into a silly sci-fi hack as an excuse to pan the plot further.

The last season is entirely a jump on the place. No going forward. The last episode (“He’s Our You”) was splendidly written and executed. But it was also a fraud.

There’s only one true theme in this show, self-referential and metalinguistic: it’s about the vanity of its writers. It’s about how much and for how long they can cheat you.

Masterful work.

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.

Three different kinds of epics

Romance of the Three Kingdoms – Luo Guanzhong – 2000/3000 pages approx.
One of the “Four Great Classical Novels” of Chinese literature. It’s a huge book but as for every chinese classic it’s quite hard to figure out the best version to get. All books available in english seem to be abridged in a way or another, and also quite expensive. On Amazon I tracked two fine-looking versions. The first (C. H. Brewitt-Taylor) is the one in the picture above and easier to get from various places. Two volumes of 600-700 pages each. The other version (Moss Roberts) is divided into four volumes, declared unabridged and more faithful to the original, while the first seems to have a more beautiful prose. You can compare the two directly since Amazon has the “look inside” option for both (but the latter is taken from the abridged version). My choice would be on the four volumes version, also because even the abridged version seems more easy to follow and less obscure. (an unabridged version is also available for Kindle)

Comments from wiki or reviews:

A grand total of 800,000 words, nearly a thousand characters, and 120 chapters.

Myths from the Three Kingdoms era existed as oral traditions before any written compilations. In these popular stories, the characters typically took on exaggerated characteristics, often becoming immortals or supernatural beings with magical powers.

how power is wielded, how diplomacy is conducted, and how wars are planned and fought.

Three Kingdoms takes place amid a time of disorder in the Chinese Empire caused by the weakening of the throne and the Yellow Scarves rebellion. It focuses on the interactions betweent the various warlords. The Yellow Scarves who are losing influence at the time are mostly a background “random events” threat that serves the function that the Reivers do in Serenity.
Three Kingdoms is curious among the epics I am familiar with because of the emphasis on cunning. Reading it is very much like watching a chess game being played out and the book is full of that style of mysticism of strategy that seems unique to China. In fact that is why I got it; I was seeking just that sort of thing.
For that reason it will be different from more familiar epics. It has labyrinthine cloak and dagger, and treachery, described in a strange style. It is one of the most elaborate tales of intrigue ever written.

Jin Ping Mei – Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng – 3000 pages approx.
Or Chin P’ing Mei. This is the fifth of the four great chinese novels:

It is the first full-length Chinese fictional work to depict sexuality in a graphically explicit manner

The novel describes, in great detail, the downfall of the Ximen household during the years 1111-1127 (during the Northern Song Dynasty). The story centres around Ximen Qing 西門慶, a corrupt social climber and lustful merchant who is wealthy enough to marry a consort of wives and concubines.

Reputed to be the most extensive and notorious work of pornography in world literature, the Chin P’ing Mei is actually far more than that: with its grasp of human psychology and mastery of complex narrative forms, its author probably created the world’s first realist novel.

Now this is even harder to find in an unabridged version. I actually had an italian copy I bought years ago and tried to compare with a few versions online: it doesn’t even seem the same book. It’s not a matter of translation, but totally different story and characters. This version I have is about 900 pages and is even “extended” over the first, ad I think based on the translation of Arthur Waley whose other book/translation (The Tale of Genji) was considered beautiful in style but also lacking faithfulness to the original and even missing one chapter. There’s only one version (The Plum in the Golden Vase) in english that is completely unabridged and faithful, the only big problem is that the professor who was working on this project planned five volumes (600+ pages each) but was only able to finish three before his death. So the only decent translation available in the western world is incomplete.

From what I remember of my italian version it was quite a fun read because of the characters and libertine, unrestrained behaviors. Easily readable and compelling. The few sexual scenes were also tamer than anyone would expect, at least in that version. There wasn’t anything really “explicit” and when things were described they were only done through allusions and fancy, poetic metaphors with flowers, fishes and springs. I’d really like to buy the english version and compare it with the one I have, but the three volumes aren’t exactly cheap and the incompleteness just adds to the disappointment. This would be a great story to read.

Arcana Coelestia – Emanuel Swedenborg – 4000 pages approx.
Many years ago I was reading all sort of weird stuff. But really weird and all over the place. From magic, to myths, literature. Esotericism mixed with science, like The Morning of the Magicians. Not that I believed in that stuff, but I’ve always been curious. Along the path I started to read the Inferno by August Strindberg. That was one of the best books I’ve ever read. Like a victorian/gothic tale written by E.A. Poe or Lovercraft, but a real story in this case. An autobiography/diary of a writer gone mad, paranoid, hallucinated, obsessed with coincidences, occultism and alchemy. It’s one of those books you can’t stop reading once you start, written splendidly and fascinating (besides, there was an implicit intrigues between Strindberg himself, his lover, one friend and Edvard Munch, a fine group). In this book Strindberg wrote how the Arcana Coelestia by Swedenborg changed his life and gave an explanation to all his obsessions. Swedenborg also had strong influences on Goethe, Balzac, William Blake, Baudelaire, Borges, Kant, Martin Luther King and, in particular, Carl Jung. So I went and tried to order the book, and continued trying for a couple of years. Now I understand why I was never able to find a version. The published book is more that 4000 pages, the only printed edition I was able to find is divided into 12 volumes. But it is also available for free online.

There are a lot of resources online about Swedenborg, but they look rather close to stuff like scientology. The Arcana Coelestia is a monumental book where he explain the first book of the old testament, the Genesis. He says that it shouldn’t be read in its literal sense, but in its symbolic sense. That’s why Jung was influenced by his works. Modern psychology has moved through five stages that I don’t remember exactly. But it moved from the basic sense of a dream, to Freudian interpretation, to a deeper symbolic one (Jung) and then an even deeper level (Hillman, whose “The Dream and the Underworld” I heartily recommend) called archetypal psychology where dreams go back to the archetypes coming right from Greek mythology. The deeper you dig, the farther you go. There are similarities with Swedenborg as he interprets the bible like Hillman would interpret a dream. Swedenborg also claimed that he was able to talk directly with god and various angles for many years and that all he wrote was exactly what was being told to him. Something like Dante’s Divine Comedy, but pretending it wasn’t in any way fictional. He also wrote a book where he explains the apocalypse (1200 pages, enjoy), again in its symbolic meaning and purpose.

Whether you believe, or even doubt, about the relevance of all this, at least it is intriguing and may have a deeper sense if read from the point of view of Hillman and Jung (so through critical thinking and not taken as dogma).

Swedenborg shows that the Bible has a external or natural sense (the stories) and an internal or spiritual sense (the inner meaning). The spiritual sense of the Books of Genesis and Exodus teaches of the development of the human mind and the regeneration of humans.

The truly astounding thing to me about the Arcana Coelestia is that it tells about the life of Christ–His inner temptations and growth–things we don’t learn about in the Bible. So while it gives new light to the Old Testament, it also adds to the New Testament and knowledge about Christ.

I spent years researching the five major religions and have read all of their main sacred texts, yet I never seemed to find clear answers to my questions or an explanation to the frustrating contradictions between common religious beliefs. Heaven and Hell put all that frustration to rest. This magnificent work presents a coherent theological model in which all major religions find a place and answers all questions people typically have about faith such as: why religions sometimes contradict; why people in various cultures developed a belief in reincarnation; the cause of gender and sexual love; what the concept of “eternity” truly means; why evil is permitted in this realm and so on. Swedenborg was the most powerful psychic in known history, someone whose work cannot be ignored by any serious student of religion or philosophy.

Swedenborg wrote over 30 volumes of work, so figuring out where to dive into this ocean of material can be confusing. “Heaven and Hell” is a great place to start. Have you ever wondered about what Heaven looks like or what goes on there? If you have ever been curious about Angels and what they spend their time doing, you will have all these questions and more answered in this detailed account. Did God create hell so there would be a place to send sinners to be punished? Swedenborg says, “No.” God does not punish or judge anyone. God is pure love and incapable of even frowning in our direction. Want to know who created hell and who goes there? You have to buy the book….

These recent English translations are a very interesting read for the “open minded”. Swedenborg’s matter-of-factly presentations of what he says he saw and heard is expressed so honestly, the reader is left with much to ponder on many “other worldly” topics. The author appears to truly believe the experiences he relates, and passes descriptions along to us in vivid detail, almost to a fault.

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Books at my door – Late March

I really need a camera so I could post porn pictures of books. Anyway:

The Judging Eye – R. Scott Bakker – 420 pages
I diligently bought all the books part of this series even if I’ve yet to read one (a matter of time ans subjective reading pile order). This one is the first volume of the second trilogy set twenty or so years after the previous. Usually Martin’s fans prefer Bakker to Erikson and all three together can be considered the apex of epic fantasy today. This book was well received from the first reviews on the internet, but I also read more moderate, less enthusiastic opinions. Surely Bakker aimed high, as he said a while ago that his first trilogy would be like “The Hobbit”, while this one following would be his “Lord of the Rings”. Those reviews say that the book is interesting and well written as always, but it also reads like an introduction to what may come later, so it looks like even this year Abercrombie is going to steal the spotlight.

That cover is from the Canadian paperback edition, the one I got. This as a protest to the American publisher (Overlook). This book had one of the coolest covers ever made. I was anxious to buy the book just because of the sexiness of it. I already commented that I love books with covers that makes them look like books and not like b-movies billboards. This one was perfect but about two months before release the publisher decided that it was TOO cool, and switched it with the UK version with some slight changes. So I stubbornly went to amazon.ca and bought a different version. The book ends with a few pages of glossary, some more pages of summary about the previous trilogy, and an updated map reasonably printed, this time.

NOTE: Even the cover you see there is not correct. The book I received has a slightly different cover, more elegant. The horns appear more ornate and inscribed, the tone of the colors is more toward light brown than yellow, and at the very bottom there’s a vague representation of a landscape.

Reality Dysfunction – Peter F. Hamilton – 1225 pages
Oh, I love these fatty books. Mass market UK edition, also first in a trilogy, but a trilogy that ended and that didn’t originate sequels. The format here was a constant. All three books have the same number of pages. 400k words for a total of 1M 200k. Reading comments around it seems that this series is, along with the Gap by Donaldson, the very best among the space operas (then comes Banks). Something like epic fantasy in space, with huge cast of characters, proliferation of plot lines and usual big scale conflict. It was also described as a true page-turner. So I expect to have fun reading without the fear the fun being over too soon. This book not only part of the series considered by far his (author) best, but also the best volume in the trilogy. The other two seem slightly more predictable and less involving, even if they continue to play well the same cards that worked in this first one, and play them well. Or so they say.

I always said that I’m not interested in the “science” part of science-fiction (hard SF), in this case Hamilton is obviously favoring the spectacular side, but is also known because he crams a shitload of geeky ideas in his books, so working toward consistence. But I really want a true page-turner. That’s the main reason behind the purchase.

Bleak House – Charles Dickens – 1040 pages
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens – 510 pages
I never read Dickens, so along with the purchase of Drood came the curiosity. I didn’t know what to pick, so I gave a glance at the various books he wrote and picked these two. Dunno if it was a decent choice, but I expected to find something popular and relatively easy to read, instead it was the opposite. The writing here is incredibly dense and not easy at all to read for me (second language and all). The style is more like D F Wallace. Long phrases with plenty of commas and tangents within. It’s easy to get lost and have to go back at the beginning of the phrase to put everything together properly. Even quite ornate, with plenty of carefully picked adjectives everywhere. The writing is absolutely beautiful and researched. Deep, insightful, perfect. But it’s definitely not something “fun” to read. It’s like work. Great work, but still work. So I’m not expecting anymore to enjoy this. This about Bleak House. I don’t know if it’s just that book, Great Expectations seems to flow better and it’s also a leaner book. There are also plenty of notes in the middle of the text, so I read and then have to flip over to the appendices, it’s not fun at all. But then I’m stubborn and will try to go further.

You can understand my choices, though:

Like most Dickens novels, Bleak House is a wonderfully overpopulated work, crammed to the seams with grotesques, eccentrics, amiable idiots and moral monstrosities.

On the surface at least Bleak House is a ramshackle, dishevelled book, a centrifugal novel that spins off a whole galaxy of hermetic social worlds.

It is held to be one of Dickens’s finest and most complete novels, containing one of the most vast, complex and engaging arrays of minor characters and sub-plots in his entire canon.

Great Expectations is the most understated work by a writer not usually known for understatement: ”compactly perfect’, Shaw called it and its virtues from its compactness.

It is regarded as one of his greatest and most sophisticated novels, and is one of his most enduringly popular

Btw, Bleak House has illustrations, and Great Expectations a map ;)

Next time I’ll get David Copperfield.

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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.

Wizard’s First Rule – Terry Goodkind

My reading pile is so high and filled with awesome that one wonders why I waste time reading Goodkind, especially considering I’m a slow (but steady) reader that has yet a vast ground to cover before feeling satiated about what the genre has to offer. The reason is simply curiosity. Some writers are loved everywhere, some writers are niche, some bring controversy. In the blogs and forums I read Goodkind isn’t just considered an example of the worst, but also a receptacle of laughter and continuous mocking. The books as its fans. I read this book in parallel with Memories of Ice and The Colour in the Steel of KJ Parker. Quite different stuff in style and intent, meant to be, so that I could gleam better what makes all these writers different. Since I re-started reading fantasy and sci-fi, about a year and half ago, I tried to pick representative writers and books, vastly different one from the other. I do a lot of “research” (meaning reading plenty of reviews online and forum threads) before buying a book and, no matter what I plan, at the end I start reading the one that makes me more curious. In this case it felt a perfect companion (like their opposite) to the books I was reading, and I was curious to know how bad it was to deserve all that negative noise, and yet why it was also hugely successful with the larger public. The goal was to find a convincing answer to both questions.

I wasn’t even sure if I really wanted to stick with it from the first to the last page, I just wanted a sample. The fact that I arrived to the end is already a sign that I didn’t find it so horrid. Quite a page turner in fact. I’m not saying that I couldn’t put it down, but I had an easy time with it, more than with other, better books, and found myself reading further than the point I had decided to reach for that day. This due to a well-planned structure. Every chapter serves a particular purpose in a way similar to Jordan’s style, and every one chapter ends in a way that makes you curious about what happens next. Well balanced in all its parts. There isn’t any high peak in quality or particularly boring point. Mostly even with the exception of the last 100 pages, where all tensions vanishes and the plot comes to an end in quite a ridiculous way. Those last 100 pages are quite dreadful.

The whole beginning of the book instead went rather well. In fact I was writing on the forums that I was having an easy time reading it and that I considered it a relatively well written “young adult” fantasy novel, with the inclusion of some gruesome scenes. Well, that was before reaching the part with the PoV of the dark side. At that point isn’t a matter of violence and gore that aren’t suitable for younger readers, but scenes intended to be excessive. The problem of this book is that it takes itself way, way too seriously. So while it was working quite well as an accessible, easygoing and pleasant fantasy novel, it felt as if Goodkind started to add explicit violence and nasty themes only so that the book would have been taken seriously. As if he was marking the point and make sure he was going to be considered “adult”. Wannabe adult, but quite childish in truth. Childish and perverted at the same time.

Later on this point of view changed because while the book indeed has contrasting elements, it all brings back to one unitary view that then corresponds to a simplification of Ayn Rand philosophy. He didn’t just make parallels with themes, but also tried to replicate the reason behind the writing. Ayn Rand doesn’t write realistic characters, she writes only conceptual representations. She uses characters as precise embodiments of a concept, using them to explain this concept. They are descriptions of an intent, didactic. Means for an idea she wants to pass on. In the same way Goodkind creates characters, including main ones, more like archetypes than multi-faceted, complex figures. Slightly less conventional and already seen, as the archetypes aren’t typical of fantasy, but Ayn Rand archetypes (“The Queen’s tax collectors came and took most of my crops, they barely left enough to feed my family”). Richard, the seeker, doesn’t just acquire special powers because he becomes the seeker, but he actually becomes the seeker because he is already one. He already is the natural manifestation of the archetype itself. So he is chosen for the role, as a consequence.

This is both the weakness and strength. It’s quite obvious: if you don’t like when a whole book is meant to shove down your throat some strong ideology, then you’ll come to hate this book, because there’s really nothing “natural” or spontaneously going. It’s all driven to “mean”, from the first to the last page. On the other hand it quite works because while Rand’s principle aren’t smoothly working when dealing with real life, here the setting is serviceable and partial enough to be consistent with its intent. Fiction gives you that power, you can filter what you want and make sure your ideas work flawlessly. The simplification of Rand that Goodkind makes here works quite well and drives the story in an intriguing way. I mean, I hope you aren’t one who starts arguing at a book, because there’s A LOT to argue, plenty of brow-rising parts, but overall it works and exposes well some central themes, like the manipulation of masses. Even the “Wizard’s First Rule” is well explained and meaningful in the book. Sometimes Ayn Rand works, in most cases when it corresponds to a simpler concept: pragmatism. The concept of “truth” simplified in the book often corresponds to pragmatism, or what is true bared of opinions. There are situations where people behave absurdly (like the mob of people going against Richard, Khalan and Zed at the beginning), but it’s still fun to read and find out how the various situations are resolved. Most of the book is built showing an impossible dead end, only to have the characters, Richard mostly, find a way out. Without too many tricks, in fact. Just a good use of the simplified principles and some slight deus ex machina to nudge things this way and that.

For most readers this layer of morals and philosophy will probably go above their head. It’s not even that central. Central is the narrow point of view on Kalan and Richard, their relationship. That’s the hook thrown at the readers. Even here the main protagonist is an handsome, yet naive boy who lives in a corner of the world without surprises. Quite a good and typical role for identification. The disclosure of the magical, mythical, foreign world happens through the eyes of this boy, so easier for the writer to gently introduce themes and details, because Richard knows just as much as the readers. Vehicle for experiencing and awe. Add an attractive, mysterious, even scary girl and you have already a recipe for win. At least a large public type of win. The PoV only rarely moves away from the central duo, so it’s quite “zoomed in” and intimate. Another strength is the heavy use of redundancy. This is not a book where you risk to miss details. If there’s something slightly important then be sure it is going to be repeated over and over, and then again. It’s already chewed food. But it works well in the style of a page turner, where your attention is on the characters and their adventures. That’s why I think in the end it works well and is quite fun to read, while on the other hand it juggles with some themes. There is the clash some people perceive and that may increase with the later books, where, I’m told, the preaching prevails on the adventure.

Later in this book there’s an endless part that deals with torture and imprisonment. At the beginning it felt like a reference to Jordan’s second book, where Egwene is captured near the end of the book, but in this case there’s an excess of violence that is marked over and over, and even a much stronger presence of SM themes. So much that it makes you wonder. Goodkind makes absolutely sure that all the devious practices are exclusive of the bad guys, so he can point and put the blame on them and their evilness, but you wonder if in truth he enjoys these perversions in the end. Considering the increasing presence of these elements in the other books, the suspect is legit.

The part also made me think to “The Real Story”, first book by Stephen Donaldson in the Gap series. In this case the rape scene and theme is used to warn readers. It’s definitely not a book for everyone. Compared to Goodkind’s heavy handing it’s almost lightweight, but it’s way more unsettling even if it’s dealt less bluntly. In this case too Goodkind’s approach is more juvenile. “I’m bad, but ultimately good”. Versus the rape in the Gap series: “I’m bad, but if you look better, just gray”. Perverse, miserable and mean as most human beings. Amoral, filled with greed. So I think it’s the realism that makes the Gap case unsettling, while it quite doesn’t work the same in Goodkind. The tale is spoiled. First because you know where it goes, you know there will be the happy end. Second because there’s no real “letting the plot loose”. Goodkind follows solid principles, he uses the book as a way to exemplify them, as a representative model. The moral is shoved down your throat because the book is an example of it. A mean for the end. The gap is more ruthless. You don’t really know where it is going, the characters are less predictable. The writer explores a character the way it is, not the way he ought to be. There’s a sense of uncertainty. In Goodkind it’s the opposite. You know how it ends, you are just waiting to discover what trick is being used to win, and by the end there’s even atonement, so everything is being forgiven and put under a positive light. Coming out clean.

In fact that part is so overdone that I started to make parallels not anymore with Jordan’s Egwene, but with Jesus. Richard goes trough a kind of experience that is not unlike “the passion”. Just in this case what drives him forth is not love for god (that would be quite a betrayal of Rand’s atheism), but love for his gal. So the love story goes on, raised to dramatic heights. Even though there’s plenty to dislike in this part, I read it, surprisingly, with interest. The way out of the situation was unclear and, despite the incessant repetition of the same situations, I continued to read and probably faster than the rest of the book. In fact once that part is passed the rest feels even anticlimactic and the tension goes suddenly down. But then you are at those 100 page before the end, so you go on.

Now my curiosity is mostly quenched by what I read and I doubt I’ll move soon to the second book. There’s a short excerpt at the end of the book that was interesting and different from the rest, so it’s still possible I continue even if I don’t plan to. Everyone out there says that the more the series goes on, the more the flaws stick out. Not exactly a deterrent as I can be more interested in controversy than adventure, the part that was quite successfully executed in this book. I know now how Goodkind exposed his side to attacks because of the weird and dubious mix of themes and the simplified, juvenile approach to them. At the same time I also understand why this series is so successful around the world. It’s accessible, has a good pacing and easy for identification. Then there’s Drama. And true love, heroism, friendship. Hell, there’s even an almost-sex scene surprisingly well written (the one at the Mud people, not the one later). Sex scenes are usually the low point in books, this one was the high one. Incredible.

I had a good time with the book. It worked perfectly as an interlude between the denser Erikson and KJ Parker.

Every book should be enjoyed for what it is and nothing more. This one isn’t THAT bad.