Category Archives: Books


Epic is who epic does.

I don’t think I’ve stressed enough the point I tried to make in my previous post about Sanderson and his foolishness.

Imagine being 30 years old, and deciding what you’re going to write when you’ll be 60. This is the thing. Epic isn’t the wordcount of the project, epic is the implausibility of the commitment. And acceptance of such commitment. It’s the work required to build an impossible human artifact. A dolmen of impossibility. A monolith. Or an “edifice”, like that other book telling the story of a guy who decides to build a church for no apparent reason. It’s all about seeing past and through what’s possible and sensible. A mission that has no sense, but yet you’re compelled to go through. A writer who isolates himself from the external world to build this artifact.

Another crazy project, but of a totally different typology, is “Horus Heresy”. A literary crossover that tells the story of a pivotal event in the setting of Warhammer 40k, the civil war caused by Horus (and so the titular heresy) versus the God/Emperor.

It’s somewhat like a comics crossover, where an editor has to do the ungrateful and impossible job of coordinating a bunch of writers so that everything makes sense and to build some overall bigger tapestry of events. But what’s surprising is that this endeavor has gone on now for ELEVEN YEARS. A crossover that spans more than a decade. The first book in this saga came out in 2006. We are now at 46 books already out, another out this December, a more planned. They say the end is now in sight, and the overall cycle should be done within 55 or so books.

55 books are a lot, and it’s just one story in the 40k mythos. In the meantime, for example, Black Library released another series of 12 books, already completed, telling another story and set after Horus Heresy itself. It’s called The Beast Arises.

Even Horus Heresy burst itself out of its main cycle. There are also 18 prequels planned (but these are also shorter), and they are actually interesting in the economy of the story, because every book focuses on one “Primarch”. There are 18 Primarchs (or 20, 2 are mysterious or whatever) and they are relevant because when the civil war starts they split in two factions of 9. So knowing the Primarchs before entering the war might give a certain perspective on the whole conflict. It gives the war its broader context, as a kind of convergence.

The average Horus Heresy novel is of course much smaller than Sanderson’s doorstoppers (and written by different writers specializing in their own sub-story-trajectory within the bigger event, and with a significant variance in the quality of writing) but on average we have novels that stabilize around 100k. Some are 80k words, some reach up to 120k or so. In a standard format that’s around 250 pages each book. It’s not much by itself, but now you have to multiply that for those 47 books of original material. And that means that by the time the series is over we’re looking at a grand total of more than 5 million words. It’s quite insane by itself.

And if 50+ books, plus 20 prequels aren’t enough, another publisher is ALSO contributing to the Horus Heresy mythology through pure lore-books + miniature battles, already 7 volumes out, 350 pages each in a big format and looking amazing.

This was all to give some context to the reason why this blog post exists. While looking onto all this stuff I spotted on ASOIAF forums some interesting comments about the significance of Warhammer 40k, under the surface:

Honestly, I think the Warhammer universe is underestimated for its world-building but I got started in roleplaying games before I became a major fan of fantasy so I have a higher tolerance for game-isms than most perhaps. I also think my literary tastes owe a great deal to Warhammer because it’s the system that gave us the word “grimdark” and all the wonderful descriptions it makes.

One thing I’d like to note, though is Horus didn’t ruin the Imperium. The Imperium was an authoritarian militantly atheist totalitarian violent dictatorship ruled by a master race of genetically engineered Psyker warriors. They’re a bunch of scumbags who destroyed innocent cultures, eradicated all Xenos they encountered (the Interax shows coexistence was possible with some), and conquered all humans who resisted the rule of Earth. Horus’ rebellion is karmic, IMHO, because it made sure the Emperor of Mankind didn’t get away with his mammoth amount of crimes.

Then again, I’ve never really been a big fan of Leto II God-Emperors.

Warhammer 40K is a fun setting really for getting into the nuts and bolts of fascism using a fantasy lens. It’s on the borderline between pure and entertainment and art but I think of it as every bit as useful as Marvel Comics X-men for talking about a sensitive subject in ways which the reader might be predisposed to have an opinion on that blinds them to undertones. For instance, with the X-men the issue of prejudice.

W40K, for me, is useful as a discussion of how reasonable people might come to believe militarism and xenophobia are justified by showing the comic extremes necessary to “justify” that kind of attitude in setting. By, essentially, making the ultimate grimdark setting, you expose just how hollow a lot of the justifications for unlimited militarism and absolute prejudice are.

Even then, the books do a good job of showing the justification of the Imperium is often hollow. Gaunt’s Ghosts are cannon fodder despite the fact they’re the most elite, talented, and intelligent group of scouts in the Sabbat Crusade. They’re used wastefully and all of their hopes are destroyed in the meat grinder of its corrupt leadership. Ciaphas Cain hates himself for being a coward and a fraud but he’s in a society which does not revere common sense or preserving the lives of your troops. “Cowardice” in the Imperium is courage to any sensible army.

The Imperium is better than the alternative, which is extinction, but if the better is being a bunch of Theocratic Space Nazi Feudalists (a trifecta of everything working class Brits hate) then how much better is it really?

It’s why, cartoony as it is, I consider W40K to be art.

Like the X-men.

And, a bunch of links that I used to quickly get a grasp of the overall mythos without completely lose my sanity (yes, it’s 4chan derived, yet still quite useful):

https://1d4chan.org/wiki/Warhammer_40,000_8th_edition
https://1d4chan.org/wiki/Horus_Heresy
https://1d4chan.org/wiki/God-Emperor_of_Mankind
https://1d4chan.org/wiki/Roboute_Guilliman
https://1d4chan.org/wiki/Age_of_the_Dark_Imperium

More than three years ago I bought “Words of Radiance” and made a blog post about it. No, not a review. I just rambled about the physical object.

Today my copy of “Oathbringer” arrived, so I’m keeping the tradition. This time I’m a week late because Amazon in Europe got much worse. They now have some kind of protectionist deal with the UK publishers so in the whole of Europe they don’t sell anymore American copies of the books until they are one or two months old. It’s ridiculous. So I had to order the Tor/American copy from a different shop, and that means it takes longer to deliver.

Let’s see what we have.

The most obvious change is the price of the book. The first two were $27.99, Oathbringer is now $34.99, so a +$7 increase that I don’t know if it’s due to prices being raised across the board at Tor, or just trying to milk this particular book.

The first two books had a higher quality binding with pages that are folded and sewed together into sections, then glued to the cloth spine. Instead this third volume goes with single pages simply glued to the cloth spine like a normal paperback (or the cheap hardcovers). As far as I know this costs quite a bit less to make.

So we got a +$7 and a reduction in binding quality. I read somewhere the publisher claimed it had to change the binding because the book was “too big”. I’m going to speculate it’s all bullshit. Why? Just remove the soft cover and look at the three books one next to the other. Oathbringer is actually the smallest in size of all the three, and *by far*. This isn’t due to the binding as they suggested: they are simply using a much lighter type of paper.

Oathbringer is about 150 pages longer than the previous book, but by making the paper much lighter they actually managed to have it smaller in size even compared to the first book. So they didn’t have any reason to change the binding as well, it’s just for the money. Sanderson might not be the best writer in the genre, but he’s surely and by far the best when it comes to nourish and grow his fanbase. He has become an “industry” built around himself, and so Tor has won its bet. They heavily invested into Sanderson, and now they are maximizing profits. Sanderson is now their golden boy.

…And he’s also insane. Malazan was insane as well, but the only way you can realistically plan a 10 book series project is the way Erikson did it. A book a year. Why? Because it can only be insane to plan your life around a project that takes more than ten years of continued work and dedication. You are making a promise to stay committed for so long, and that nothing will make you stray from this plan. And even then, how do you guarantee a continuity in the work itself? People change. Taking a deep breath and then diving for ten years might even work, but more?

I think Sanderson’s initial plan with this series was to release a book every couple of years. Book 2 was already late, but the excuse was that he was still busy writing the Wheel of Time. Now I think the plan is to have a book, roughly, every three years. Oathbringer comes more than three and a half years later. With seven more to go we’re looking at a project that will take another 20 years to see its end. And this is the BEST CASE scenario, with Sanderson keeping his output without a single hiccup, and living in a stasis. People might worry that the writer might die before the end, here the risk is that it will be human civilization to come to an abrupt end before this project is over. And of course this 10 book series isn’t even the totality of the project, because Sanderson’s plan stretches WAY beyond that.

I love insanity.

On the other hand, he was smart enough to plan this cycle in two parts. So we’ll have some sort of partial conclusion in book 5. The books themselves continue to be well received and it’s particularly important for two reasons. One is that it’s the middle point of a huge sub-series, so we are at what’s usually the weakest link. But this is what Sanderson’s knows best, being aware and avoiding the common pitfalls. He seems to know exactly what to do.

The wordcounts are crazy as well. The first book was 380k (I’m now using my own counts for all three), and it’s already almost a record for the first volume in a series. Then Words of Radiance was 400k, that represents some kind of mythic boundary that very few writers are able (or allowed) to pass. And now Oathbringer punches through at a rather impressive 450k. And that’s not even the full picture, because of course Sanderson wrote also a novella that is meant to bridge the story between book 2 and 3, and that comes at 40k. So we have Edgedancer + Oathbringer, and 10k short of a half million words.

Or, we are barely at volume 3 in a projected 10 book series, and already at 1 million 270k words. That’s around the same length of all Bakker seven volumes fantasy cycle, or all of Harry Potter, or Stephen King’s Dark Tower.

TL;DR, Oathbringer costs $7 dollar more, is about 50k/150 pages longer, but it also has worse paper and binding. I think between readers and Tor, it’s Tor that got the upper hand. Everything else is pretty much consistent. The pagination is the same. There are 21 illustrations inside, but one is taken from book 1, so 20 overall (and two printed in a way too dark tone), and it’s +1, since the other two volumes had 19 in total. There are also four illustrations for the ‘endpapers’, somewhat like the first book, and the colored map was moved to the back of the soft cover, that I think is kind of pointless. They changed the font of the title, but at least if you remove the soft cover the style remain consistent. I still bet some art director will mess it up before the series is over.

Oh, and they put a typo right in the index. Book Two: Oathbringer

Really? No one could notice that?

Sanderson still plays some weird game with the inner section titles (“New Beginnings Sing” matched with “Defy! Sing Beginnings!”, and “United” matched with “New Unity”), and the cover sucks again as it sucked for book 2. The illustration is slightly nicer but “woman in front of a wall” isn’t exactly my idea for a gorgeous cover.

But… Did you read it?

Nope. When I started “The Way of Kings” the idea was to follow only this series written by Sanderson and ignore all his other output because I’m not such a big fan, so even if I’m a slow reader it was reasonable to think I would read every book before the next came out. And in fact I think I started reading Words of Radiance right away. That was March 2014. I’m… at page 200. I picked it up again a couple of months ago but I couldn’t remember some details, so I decided to restart, and I’m around page 130 or so. Now I have Words of Radiance + Edgedancer + Oathbringer.

I don’t lack the desire to read. I still remember the first book rather well and the second book does what I like already in the prologue. What sparks my interest is this Kabbalistic or esoteric undertone I perceive, where the world Sanderson describes is not the way it appears, but it “conceals” some hidden dimension that overlaps. An hidden layer that looms (and he does this on two fronts, one historical, the other instead pervasive and about the fabric of reality itself). Maybe the depth I perceive is actually inch-deep, but it still carried my interest and in the end it actually fueled the story in a interesting way. I can see certain things coming, but the predictability of this development isn’t a problem. It’s possible that at some point it becomes trivial for me, but Sanderson still strikes a good balance between something accessible and welcoming for a broad public, as well filling it with something meaningful and not entirely shallow and trite.

The books might be insanely long in wordcount, but they are enjoyable. I don’t have problems with the pacing, I didn’t find parts that were slow or pointless. That’s again an aspect why I think Sanderson got so popular. The writing flows well and is lively, characterization is colorful. It’s always about striking that balance between an easy, enjoyable read without falling into the monotony of a commodified product that goes nowhere interesting. There are aspects of the characterization that are too trite and plain, for example with Kaladin, but there’s always something else at play that still carries the page and makes it worthwhile even when it goes through some “scripted”, default motions.

But I still didn’t read it, and I keep getting sidetracked. I recently bought a book pretty much no one heard about. I spotted it on twitter described as “a 600-page novel about matters theological”, so of course I looked into it. The first few lines of the description captivated me, and I already knew I was going to read it:

When Proctor McCullough decides to desert his comfortable London life to build a church on a clifftop, nobody knows what to make of it: McCullough is not religious. Is it a midlife crisis? Has he gone mad? Is he suffering a spiritual breakdown in a secular age, where identity is shaped by wealth and status? Or has he really been chosen by God for a new revelation?

As A God Might Be

It’s an unconventional setup. The man builds a church, but he’s not religious. And there’s this idea of committing to a project that doesn’t have a clear external purpose. But it is not a “mystery”.

I’ve now read about 30 pages and the writing is sublime. The characterization is magical. The dialogue is never declarative and always about some psychological underpinning. There’s a sense of harmony in every line, in every insight into characterization. It’s at the same time very light and profound, and it deals with the characters in a way that really does feel different to me. From just 30 pages I could take countless of quotes to prove the point, very easily, but I guess I’ll keep that to when/if I write specifically about it.

I was also planning to write about other stuff, but I never get to it. I wanted to write some comments about Erikson announcing that the final volume of the current trilogy is being postponed to begin early with the “sequel” trilogy. And I still have notes about stuff in the first few pages of Fall of Light that I wanted to write since the book was released. Maybe at some point.

Not really a review of any kind but I’m going to write a few disconnected comments. Here’s the poof that when I don’t actually care about a book I end up reading faster. I read the last 2/3 of this in just a few days, while the first 1/3 I had read a month or two ago before being sidetracked toward JR by Gaddis (that’s just a hint of my erratic patterns).

I had this book years ago, when it was very popular. I read some 50/60 pages, as I usually do, then shelved it. I didn’t like at all the writing, all the characters were caricatures, all the plot was filled with simple tropes, and I did feel an intrusive “wind” in the form of the writer trying to unsubtly push reader’s emotions where he wanted them. It felt artificial and clumsy. But the guy at ofblog loved the stuff and he has a kind of sophisticated taste. I knew this was part of a bigger project of four books, and I’m always curious when an author drives toward some kind of “higher purpose”. This cycle is complete now, in Spanish, in Italian, it looks like the English version isn’t coming until 2018.

So this time I began reading the book with more determination to see it through, the whole first book to have at least a good idea about what it is all about, and what it wants to drive to. For the first 1/3 I found nothing different than the first time. The book failed to engage me, the silly tropes are pervasive. There’s just too much effort making every single character into a quirky, eccentric figure because otherwise they’d be boring and not fitting the pages of a ‘book’. It just feelt an elaborate but ultimately fake and grotesque stage.

But then it started to get good. It didn’t become any different, it didn’t become any more than that, but the recipe started to make sense and work. For the first 1/3 not only I didn’t like it, but I also couldn’t figure out why it was so widely appreciated. Reading the rest of the book made me understand more that part. The story becomes a fair bit more dense and complex but, more importantly, it mixes a lot of genres and does it fairly well. It’s good in the sense that it gets engaging and quick to read. “Mystery deepens” is the driving mechanic. There are various “blocks” that are dropped and that build and build, so you want to keep turning the pages. It works because instead of keeping a mystery out of reach until you get to a final revelation, in this case instead the flow of knowledge builds up relentlessly through the whole second half of the book. It’s one huge, constant info-dump. Very dense. But it works and isn’t tiring because it’s all still steeped into intense emotions and the tragic lives of multiple characters all together in a tangle of plot.

All of that is done well. It’s just obvious the incredible amount of work behind the book. The sheer amount of stuff packed in, and the intense tragedy that keeps a reader locked in, driving toward a “surface”. It’s a fun, engaging read and gets you in the center of this whirlpool of characters. But? But, while fun, it isn’t very meaningful to me. One thing is why and how I enjoyed it, another is my opinion now that I’ve finished it. I think it’s all pre-digested stuff. The book is all built around tropes coming from different genres, sprinkled with a gothic, surrealist atmosphere. As I said, it’s well done, but it’s also nothing more than that. It feels to me like the writer really loved these books he read, and wrapped them into this story he built. But I doubt that this mixture he made is anything more than an “homage” to authors he loved to read. Nothing more that this book has to say beyond this sort of nostalgic love.

I’m (binge)watching Twin Peaks for the first time now, sorry for the forced parallel but Twin Peaks shares a somewhat similar intent and I think shows the difference. When the post-modernism works it takes what came before, all the ingredients, but spinning them so everything moves at a different speed, and the result is completely different. To me Twin Peaks is nothing more than parody of soap operas used to make fun of the public who loved them. Public that then proceeds to take it seriously, and so falling completely in the trap. Becoming a laughing stock because Twin Peaks, really, is just trolling. But Twin Peaks also takes *itself* seriously (having a cake and eating it too). Enough to create its own new dimension. Enough to make people forget its derivative-ness, and make believe Twin Peaks STARTED something new. The mix of old tropes creates a whole new level. Knowing the old to make the new. Today Twin Peaks re-emerges, and no one even remembers it was just a parody. Transfiguration.

(and all three of my current interests, The Leftovers, Twin Peaks and The Shadow of the Wind, all three seem to have a central mystery that actually isn’t there at all. Just a lot of clever and less clever misdirection)

The Shadow of the Wind doesn’t seem to emerge from its homage, from its borrowed love for the things past. It loops back, but it closes itself. Its energy is borrowed energy. A shadow of things past that produces no new life. And it matters because its plot and structure would suggest exactly the opposite, and it fails, so radically, at the true heart. This central idea of the book that you can “redeem” a story in the past gone wrong, with a story in the present that goes well. The finale distributing trivial sweet candies to every minor and major character. Characters all used as tools and then discarded through convenient, momentary compassion so that the one adopted by the readers can have his sweeter implied future. It feels to me so hypocritical. To suggest you can clean it all. The world is bleak and full of pain, but hey, there’s a shadow writing hand here taking care of its characters and making sure it all ends in positivity. The new life that the book produces explicitly (metaphorically) just isn’t new life that the book produces for the reader. It’s a book made of ashes. A mix of tropes that is well done, but that produces nothing new or meaningful. A well done mimicry, but I don’t feel is any more than that. And the overall message? It rings hollow and false to me. It doesn’t in ANY way address the tragedy shown. It simply dismisses it through rhetoric, through the fact this is a book, indeed a fake stage where things were pre-arranged to make a point. A point that has no substance or meaning. Theatrics.

Though I wanted to read it also to figure out what the overall cycle of four books would be about, this part eludes me. The first book is complete. There’s really no element of the story that might suggest there’s more to it. It closes even too neatly. I have absolutely no idea how the author plans to wrap this in an overall larger story because it seems it’s already all squished to nothing. And so I don’t really know if I should care to read more, if there’s something that might interest me. In fact, since this book offers nothing in the overall trajectory points to the possibility there’s more substance ahead. Who knows. For the time being I’m content. I’m not rushing to read the next book.

Meaningless mind games, right? Devoid of significance. Nothing but self-indulgence, and for that vast audience out there – the whispering ghosts and their intimations, their suppositions and veiled insults and their so easily bored minds – that audience – they are my witnesses, yes, that sea of murky faces in the pit, for whom my desperate performance, ever seeking to reach out with a human touch, yields nothing but impatience and agitation, the restless waiting for the cue to laugh.

And so the Malazan saga ends… What? This 360k fat tome wasn’t the great finale? You say there are four more, even fatter books (and more)? That’s impossible because the whole world already fits comfortably into this book.

Oh, I’m sorry. It truly took me an insane amount of time to finish this one, and the book’s size, or its ambition, weren’t the cause. I just have an unexplainable compulsive habit that makes me delay the things I’m most invested in. A compulsive desire to accumulate and preserve the best stuff and lock it away in a treasure room for some later ideal time that never comes. And as with all compulsive habits, it takes a great amount of willpower and perseverance to defeat it, at least for a moment. I *have* succeeded a little, I’m up to Malazan #6, after all, and to add to that there’s Forge of Darkness and four novellas. But since reading this one book truly took me forever, it’s harder to gather all the pieces scattered through the months and *years*. I’ll try anyway to gather some thoughts, and then I’ll change the recipe, from now on (well, maybe).

This is Malazan #6, then. It marks the middle point of the overall cycle and its structure reflects it. It seems people’s opinions shift with time, but originally this specific book wasn’t a favorite among Malazan readers. The reason was that it had to gather everything from the previous five books, and not simply in a linear way because there are at least three separate “blocks” of story that until this point had been kept distinct within the confines of one dedicated book to each (more or less). So all five of these preceding volumes have to flow into this one, passing through a kind of choke point. And then readers also didn’t like that this volume doesn’t have a proper conclusion, as instead happened with the preceding ones. The overall impression was that this one was working like a transition, like an impossibly huge chariot that Erikson struggled to set once more in motion, so that it would then keep going for the second half of the series. A sort of typical middle book in a big series, that has to do the heavy lifting to reposition properly all the pieces and gain momentum once more.

But it’s not so rare that these days readers point at this one as their favorite book, instead, or close to the top. And that’s the book I actually read. The objective breadth of the thing indeed defies that of preceding books, but I didn’t notice a struggle. Page by page, right from the beginning, it feels Erikson is simply having fun, and that the movement, despite the load, is a breeze. As if he pushed aside all the pressure of having to lock together these two halves of this giant series and instead was focused on making the best of every scene. In my opinion, it has a vitality that is unprecedented and makes the most of what made the fifth book a different but good one. It’s… the first Malazan book, and the last. Maybe it’s not even a good thing, but I felt as if Erikson gave it all here. It didn’t feel like “let’s do a laborious, meticulous build up”, it felt instead as if Erikson went *all* in, without sparing anything. Who cares if there’s nothing left, this might as well be the last day on earth, give it all you have. Till the last drop.

As with all the greatest things, the context is reflected in content. Erikson knows the pressure of the series. That pressure is higher exactly at the middle point (and then again at the end, I guess). And Malazan pressure is of a kind that cannot be sustained by anyone. But that’s Malazan, the spirit. Going, with a mad grin, against all odds. And that’s why it’s fun. Because Erikson knows there’s no other way, it’s all a gamble. It’s all a leap of faith, invigorating and blissful. The brink of the world. And you cannot take it seriously. It’s important that you don’t take it seriously. This is the spirit of the characters, and the spirit I feel in the writing. It’s fun, it’s lively, it’s inspired. It doesn’t suffer at all for being a middle volume in a big series.

Things were not well. A little stretched, are you, Ammanas? I am not surprised. Cotillion could sympathize, and almost did. Momentarily, before reminding himself that Ammanas had invited most of the risks upon himself. And, by extension, upon me as well.

The paths ahead were narrow, twisted and treacherous. Requiring utmost caution with every measured step.

So be it. After all, we have done this before. And succeeded. Of course, far more was at stake this time. Too much, perhaps.

Writing, as in shadow. What you see is all there is, and the shadow warren is metaphor. A world that constantly shifts. Delicious metafiction!

Emerging from Shadowkeep, he paused to study the landscape beyond. It was in the habit of changing at a moment’s notice, although not when one was actually looking, which, he supposed, was a saving grace.

Concretely speaking, the structure is a mess. But why not? It works. Erikson seems to have recognized that fans liked the third book best, and so decided for a similar recipe. Instead of having a prolonged build-up, leading to a big convergence that ties everything together to blow it up all at once, here one can recognize two “apexes”, one coming relatively early in the book, and another to the end (but is not the end). But these two focus points aren’t actually accelerations that follow slow build up, because the rest of the book has a myriad of big events, high points that are worthy enough of a series finale, in different contexts. Something big is constantly going on. Cities explode, the sky falls. In Malazan it might as well be the routine, but not to say these events are downplayed or lack a relevant heft. It’s all a whirlpool of constant awe.

The structure is STILL a mess and the thing groans and wails under its pressure. You forget about characters, because they might as well disappear for 300 or more pages. They might return, perfectly timed, or maybe their personal journey is over in this book, you don’t know. But you also don’t care, because the attention is on what is present. In the moment. And that’s always fun or spectacular, or intense or troubling. Page by page, I don’t think anything is wasted here. It’s the specular opposite of bloat, it’s a compression of every story, of the whole world.

It might be a problem? It might as well be. This is compressed Malazan. All the things I know about Malazan. You can read around the internet complaints about all the “philosophizing” and I recognize a symptom here. The symptom is that all “big” Malazan themes return, from all the angles, all the different, ambiguous faces. I was joking at the beginning, but it does feel like this book *exhausts* itself. When you zoomed back the view to encompass the whole world there’s nothing left to say or see. This book circumnavigates the Malazan world. There’s nothing left to say, because everything is already contained. Between the lines or in the lines. Every digression is a conclusion. Full stop. Silence.

Rock was bone. Dust was flesh. Water was blood. Residues settled in multitudes, becoming layers, and upon those layers yet more, and on and on until a world was made, until all that death could hold up one’s feet where one stood, and rise to meet every step one took. A solid bed to lie on. So much for the world. Death holds us up. And then there were the breaths that filled, that made the air, the heaving assertions measuring the passing of time, like notches marking the arc of a life, of every life. How many of those breaths were last ones? The final expellation of a beast, an insect, a plant, a human with film covering his or her fading eyes? And so how, how could one draw such air into the lungs? Knowing how filled with death it was, how saturated it was with failure and surrender?

Heboric fought on against the knowledge that the world did not breathe, not any more. No, now, the world drowned.

Malazan triumphs and is most agile under pressure because Malazan already broke all the reasonable rules. This book has “flaws”, but because it refused to comply. You are on board or you aren’t, at this point. Malazan can only be judged in respect to Malazan. You can take different angles of analysis. I did, as usual. But I also realize it doesn’t matter. You’re either on board or you aren’t. Malazan taught me to think. To see the whole range, the breadth of the world.

Is characterization good? I’ve read along the years plenty of complaints about Malazan and characterization. There’s always some validity, but Malazan did change the rules. Here a character can be as well a comedic relief, and not much more. Does this give justice to the character? Nope. It doesn’t feel like a true character, it doesn’t feel true. It’s not perfectly grounded, it’s not perfectly believable, all-around. There’s a fantasy-like floaty-ness, of “let’s pretend”, and plots too neatly aligned for an effect. It betrays that necessary(?) feeling of solidity and meaningfulness. There’s plenty to analyze and criticize if you bring with you your categories and criteria. That matters too, but in the end Malazan refuses to comply. What I noticed is that this book uses characters as walls to bounce a ball. You might think this diminishes those characters, but it’s a way to hold up a wider story. Each bounce creates a contrast. When you move from a scene to another, somewhere else, you notice there’s a thematic link, that these scenes talk to each other, speak to the reader. It’s a ray of light bounced around, transformed in its color and angle. A contrast to show you, the reader. You don’t stay with a character. You go in, step out, plunge back in. It’s a constant, deliberate movement so that instead of *closing* the perspective, it opens another. That’s why I said it taught me to think, because it refuses to stay static and affirm itself. When point of view affirms itself, authority follows. Being inside a character can mean being walled in. Trapped in that manipulation. Malazan gives a feeling of sublimation, of transcendence, because those characters aren’t an end to themselves, but they build toward something more, explicitly, the reader. And this doesn’t feel like a betrayal to those character, it feels the need to find meaning in a world where there’s none. The famous “witness”. The book of the fallen.

The world, Ahlrada Ahn knew, was indifferent to the necessity of preservation. Of histories, of stories layered with meaning and import. It cared nothing for what was forgotten, for memory and knowledge had never been able to halt the endless repetition of wilful stupidity that so bound peoples and civilizations.

Muted, from the streets of the city outside, there rose and fell the sounds of fighting, of dying, a chorus like the accumulated voices of history, of human failure and its echoes reaching them from every place in this world.

There is nothing left to understand. This mad whirlpool holds us all in a grasp that cannot be broken; and you with your spears and battle-masks; you with your tears and soft touch; you with the sardonic grin behind which screams fear and self-hatred; even you who stand aside in silent witness to our catastrophe of dissolution, too numb to act – it is all one. You are all one. We are all one.

We are all one. One ray of light, distorted by perspective. You learn to think not when you close yourself in your point of view. Neither you do when you move within another, to get caged there. You learn when you step back, when you free yourself of those chains. Not to deny point of view, but to breathe deep and face whatever there is. Out of pure self-interest chained by necessity. Reality pushes you there into that unavoidable necessity, a book can make you step back and embrace something larger than your immediate howling needs. You cannot find meaning without creating it.

If Game of Thrones can feel like a brutal survival game where you just cross the names of those who die to see who survives to win what’s left, in Malazan who dies is more important than who survives. Eyes wide open. There’s only legitimate rage against an unjust world, and whatever momentary relief you salvaged. It’s already all fucking lost, all gone. And it’s because it’s all gone that it’s important you remember. That defiant look in the face of the impossibility is the purest Malazan’s soul. That mad challenge of Human versus God. Meaning versus emptiness.

Malazan #6 is easily the best book in the main series, because it builds on what came before and because it keeps delivering as if this were truly the Grand Finale. I’d still somewhat put Forge of Darkness on top, but because of personal preference for the writing and tone. FoD is Malazan, but also different. For this sixth book I was expecting a marathon that was going to validate itself at the end. Or a laborious climb necessary to reach lofty ambitions. I feel it’s the opposite. It constantly renews itself, page after page, line by line, it’s lively, *fun* to read and meaningful.

It also did take me up to book #6 to realize that Fiddler is a bard, and that “The Malazan Book of the Fallen” isn’t actually a book, but a song. (and, with Malazan, it’s never about the revelation, it’s about the implications)

Just a very well written “review”:
https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/monsters-of-translation-on-arno-schmidt-and-sasha-sokolov/#!

Reading Bottom’s Dream, John E. Woods’s new English translation of Arno Schmidt’s notoriously-untranslatable Zettel’s Traum, is like watching one of these beasts saunter out of the forest and begin munching on a telephone pole: the sheer, jurassic weirdness of the thing scrambles our pathways, making it difficult to do anything except stare. Part of this is simply a matter of size, for at 1,400 folio-sized pages Bottom’s Dream is both long and so physically cumbersome that it’s hard to imagine reading it on anything other than a lectern, or maybe a whale-elephant-turtle pagoda. Inside its cover, the idiosyncratically spelt and punctuated narrative scrolls downward in a trunk with marginal notes protruding like the ribs of a gigantic skeleton. The whole effect seems meant to repel, which is weird, since one of the first impressions we get upon reading Bottom’s Dream is of entering a puzzle or game, something designed to hold our attention. Foreboding in appearance, it responds to its audience as if it had been waiting for us … and then the more we read, the more the labyrinth opens, until soon we recognize it as less a minotaur’s trap than a kind of illustrated manuscript: a “booke” whose intricately embroidered letters are meant not just to be read, but to teach us how to read better.

It’s easy to see how it does so, for when it comes to technique, Bottom’s Dream keeps its gears on the surface. It’s like a gigantic Rube Goldberg machine, bristling with an inventiveness that veers past “smart” to a point between “zany” and “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.”

In September I ordered my copy of Alan Moore 615k words epic, Jerusalem.

I knew it was coming out from different publishers in US (Liveright) and UK (Knockabout), but I also thought the book itself was going to be pretty much the same. So I simply checked the local Amazon and ordered it as soon it was available, and the copy available was the UK one, that I bought for exactly 29.67 euros.

When I received it I opened it and found the pagination was really, REALLY bad. Both the vertical and horizontal margins were excessively huge, and the text was crammed in a smaller rectangle within the page, using a really tiny and hard to read font, even for one like me who actually dislikes big fonts and prefers smaller ones. And yet, because I had seen the page scans on Amazon.com, I knew the American version didn’t have that problem.

So I wrote: “I REALLY do regret having bought this version to the point I’m considering sending it back so I can get the other one…”

That’s exactly what I did. Amazon refunded me completely the cost of the book, so the only expense was the 4 euros required to send the book back. The problem was that the American version was not available, but I could preorder it for around 18 euros, a price quite a bit lower than what I paid for the UK version. So that’s the reason why I decided to try this option. Not only it looked like the American version was better, but it would also cost me LESS, even including the 4 euros required to send the copy back.

But I had to wait and see if the copy was going to be available at some point. While waiting, thanks to Amazon preorder policies, the price got even lower, going at 17.70 euros.

Interesting notion: the American edition of the book was not available across all Europe, on Amazon (I checked .de and .fr, so Germany and France). This because there must have been some “protection policy” with the distributor, asking Amazon to only sell the UK version in the European market. At this time the American edition is still unavailable in UK (but of course you can get it through other retailers, like Bookdepository).

But at the end of September the American edition was finally available in Germany, and at the end of October/beginning of November it started being available even in France. Finally, a couple of weeks later and it was available in Italy too (now sold for around 25 euros).

And I finally have it in my hands. 29.67 – 4 – 17.70 = 7.97 euros SPARED in the end.

Stubbornly, I prevailed!

But this is not the reason why I’m documenting all this. The fact is that the difference between the two editions is not limited just to an improved pagination. EVERYTHING is improved. It’s a whole different level of quality.

Here’s a breakdown of all the things the American edition does better:

– 90 more pages, so accommodating the text better.
– Plastic coated cover, compared to the paper of the UK edition.
– More solid and heavy hardcover, it’s better built.
– Better binding (but still the average).
– The map printed inside is actually high resolution (and bluish), much better than the poorly scanned version in the UK copy (and reddish).
– The paper is excellent quality, a whole lot improved from the UK edition.
– …you open the book and the difference is amazing. The pagination is worlds apart. The margins are thin and they use a big, extremely readable font that is the polar opposite of the one used in the UK edition. The difference is MASSIVE. You have no idea.

I wish I could post pictures because this an excellent demonstration of how much pagination can make a difference. It would be a textbook. But the page format you can see by yourself on Amazon.com, since they have the scans. What we miss is a picture of a page of the UK edition, since Amazon UK doesn’t usually make the scans. If someone could found one it would be great.

As mentioned in my review of the first book in the trilogy, Wolfhound Century, I had a brief “rant” with Gollancz, the publisher, when the book came out and they decided to split a not-so-big whole story into three smaller volumes. You can see the discussion here:
https://twitter.com/MrSkimpole/status/319145493626236928

More precisely:

Gollancz:
Author’s intention and desire have no part in this then? Thanks for assuming worst.

You just wanted to assume the publishers were being venal. Because that’s controversial.

And why the assumption this is one novel told in three parts?

So, the book was being split in three not as per request of the publisher with the intention of maximizing sales, but because of “author’s intention and desire”.

But this month it’s the month of the omnibus coming out: Wolfhound Empire. And we have an interview with the writer:
https://mylifemybooksmyescape.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/author-interview-peter-higgins/:

It works much, much better this way. Although I set out to write three separate books, the way they turned out was three sections of one continuous story, so it makes much better artistic and narrative sense to read them together, and regard them as one thing. One epic story. To me it feels like the finished work is whole and together at last. I’m hugely proud of it.

In the end I actually do believe splitting the story in three was indeed how Peter Higgins decided to sell it to the publisher, and then to the public. And now that he gives an interview for the release of the omnibus he just sells the idea that is currently more convenient for him. I’d say I don’t blame the publisher for this.

But we have now an explicit admission by the author himself that the omnibus was always a better format for that kind of story. Better but less convenient. And my assumptions were quite correct, after all.