Category Archives: Malazan


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)

Here I give my personal interpretation of an argument about Malazan that is again given a different explanation, as well ramble on general considerations about what happens to very big book series that are written across many years. It’s once again converted from a forum discussion.

“GOTMism” is a term being used when the plot in “Gardens of the Moon” is not completely coherent with the story told in the rest of the series. Often readers explain these problems as “retcons” and motivate them with the gap of years between the writing of the first book in the series and the rest. Including the idea Erikson improved as a writer. I was never totally persuaded by these explanations and over time I built my own explanation that seems to me more logical and complete. One aspect, for example, is that I read “This River Awakens”, written before GotM final version, and I found prose of a quality than in my opinion substantially exceed that of GotM. So the idea of Erikson “massively improved as a writer” didn’t go quite well with the fact his first book is so absolutely excellent. Yet you still can feel a significant improvement going from GotM to the following, Deadhouse Gates. The writing does improve. The other aspect of why the retcon idea isn’t exhaustive is that events weren’t simply incoherent with how the plot was explained later on, they remained incoherent even when examined in isolation. Some stuff in GotM doesn’t make a lot of sense even when you consider just GotM as a context. So it’s not just a case that can be written of as a “change of mind” on the part of the writer.

So my explanation is different, I think the Malazan series went through different stages, as it happens with oversize, ambitious projects, and you can see those effects directly in the books.

Here I try to mix a forum post where I wrote my interpretation and explanation of what usually appears as an inconsistency, leading to some overall considerations on how the whole series is written and is shaped, and how it evolved.

(a):
Tayschrenn: Can someone remind me what is was that he did in the battle of Pale, revealed in MoI, that showed that he wasn’t actually trying to kill Malazans/Bridgeburners as previously suspected?

(b):
It’s a retcon, really. I think the excuse was that he thought the tunnels were safe but it could be classified as a GotM-ism.

That’s too much a tangle of plot for a completely satisfying explanation, but not really a retcon. The thing “mostly” makes sense, but it’s still rough and poorly executed. Lots of those characters swap positions behind the scenes and their motivations aren’t well explained.

I think I was able to give it an overall sketchy explanation in the Tor re-read, and that explanation was later confirmed by Erikson. Though I don’t remember exactly how it worked.

Tayschrenn’s position changes with the arrival of the adjunct (soon after the siege), so you see the contradiction of the character because there was an actual change of tasks. The Bridgeburners DID plan to replace Laseen on the throne with Whiskeyjack, so initially it was true that Laseen was against them and gave Tayschrenn the order to continue the purge. Those purges (that were actually triggered by Paran, indirectly) were required by Laseen to seize control, since her rule was of course not legitimate and pretty much no one in the army was loyal to her. They were all loyal to the previous emperor. Only later Laseen realized she couldn’t fight against the whole empire, and had instead to try winning their favors. She’s very paranoid, but not a fool.

It’s then Dujek that later tries to convince Wiskeyjack that Tayschrenn is not an enemy. So he might have been half lying for pragmatic reasons, or maybe it was Tayschrenn that managed to convince Dujek (who himself didn’t know of the Bridgeburners plan to replace Laseen).


My logic is Kalam’s plan was to replace Laseen with Whiskeyjack. That’s why one of the pebble was supposed to open a portal and bring over both Quick Ben and Whiskeyjack. But at that point the Bridgeburners on Genabackis side were in a deep mess with the Crippled God and Kalam too was in deep trouble and had to use both the pebbles before reaching Laseen (and Laseen wasn’t even there because she tricked Kalam). So during both MoI and DG the situation evolved so much that the plan couldn’t happen anymore.

The only tiny hook for this explanation is the very last two pages of Gardens of the Moon (and the general theme of Dune-like “plans within plans within plans” that is QB’s mantra, essentially, being always one step ahead). Go back and reread them. That plan is never mentioned again because it was just between Quick Ben and Kalam (since Whiskeyjack would never agree to send a squad to kill Laseen and claim the throne, their idea was to do everything on their own and then just toss the throne in Whiskyjack’s lap so that he couldn’t turn down the offer at that point, the empire without a ruler would be such a mess that WJ’s honor would have tied him to the throne as a sense of responsibility), and because its conditions change so much during DG that basically it only remains implicit. We only know Kalam was there to kill Laseen, and then decided not to for the reasons explained in the book. It’s only logical, but not explicitly told, that the plan couldn’t stop there. They had to have an idea about who should replace Laseen on the throne, and WJ, with the crippled leg and everything, made the perfect candidate. He was ready to become a leader instead of just a soldier.


It’s kind of weak storytelling when such an important sub-plot that drives most of the story through one book is so poorly referenced (the whole plan is implicit). But it’s a symptom of how Erikson worked: he already had the story in his mind, so it makes sense to him when he writes, but sometime he has a poor sense of what important information he didn’t pass to the reader. Scenes (and motivations) he knows happened between characters but that never directly appear in the book. That’s the actual big problem of GOTM: Erikson knows the story so well because he had it all so long in his mind that he consequently has a very poor grasp of what is there and what is missing in the actual books. What he wrote about is only a part of what he knows, and while writing he often lost track of what would be the exclusive reader’s perception. GOTM is like 30% stuff that happens in the actual book and 70% behind the scenes that is only tangentially referenced or completely missing. The rest of the series instead is built more and more directly on the stuff in the actual books (original material), and less behind the scenes (the world and history they built before the idea of the book series happened).

This does affect the quality of the book and contributes to lots of perceived problems. Including problems with characterization as you have so many characters with their own pre-existing history and yet a very quick and partial presentation that bypasses almost completely their motivations and personality (what drives 90% of other books). There’s a very perceivable lack of context. That presentation is too sparse, too weak, ultimately leading to a sense of plot moving without a clear logic. Stuff that just happens for no reason, and no emotional impact because you can’t actually engage with it.

*BUT* I don’t think this happens as just a direct consequence of Erikson suddenly becoming a better writer. I think this happens because of structural reasons on how the books are written. GotM was a book conceived to be based on a pre-existing world with its already established rich history. It was not a world built FOR a book series, it was a world converted to one. GotM moved from being a game-world to a movie script and only in its last stage it transformed into a book. A world invented for other reasons, crammed into a book. That means Erikson had to select what scenes to write about, what leave as background, and how. Some stuff is in, most of it is left out. This context changes as the series progresses, from the second book onward Erikson follows a clear outline, but the bulk of the material he works with becomes increasingly original, created and controlled specifically for the book. If GotM is an “adaptation”, as it happens when a movie is converted to a novel, the rest of the series is work conceived specifically as a book series.

The first few books are based on such a tangle of plot and behind the scenes, that are instead explicit in Erikson’s mind since it’s the bulk he worked and played on for such a long time, and the result is that lots of stuff is poorly explained or not given enough importance even if it moves important plots. As the series progresses we see progressively less pre-existing material, and so there’s also progressively less reliance on stuff that happens behind the scenes and that Erikson gives for granted even if IT IS NOT.

And that’s why, while GotM suffers because of those reasons, it also has that unique flavor of “pre-existing history” and in medias res story that the rest of the series tends to lose. You gain something but you lose something too. The story you read in the following books is the bulk of what’s needed, of what does exist. There’s less a sense of a vaster world that lives on. And of course this happens for practical reasons. When Erikson started writing he had this big world already built and established, he only had to cherry pick what to write about. A majority of scenes already existing that only had to be “adapted” on the page. But as the series progresses he relies more on original material, ideas that go directly in the writing. With a fast release pacing for every book he obviously didn’t have time for off-the-book worldbuilding, so what you read in the books becomes almost the totality of the “canon” of this fictional world. It goes all in. If GotM is a slice of a big story/world existing in Erikson’s mind, from DG onward Erikson pours all of his creativity directly on the page, there’s not anymore as much stuff that is left out.

It’s interesting because while Erikson gives up to the idea of continuosly building a world off the page and settles for just the bland illusion of it, instead GRRM, being more of an obsessive perfectionist, never gives up. But at the same time, as already discussed, he had a growing sense of frustration wasting hours of work on world-building off the page, taking away actual work on the book writing itself. And his “solution” was instead of broadening the scope (book 4 onward) to include all that side-material right into the book series. And we know the results. If Malazan gives up on some of that complexity, ASOIAF instead embraces it, and chokes on it. If Malazan “converges”, ASOIAF explodes out and we can argue whether or not Martin will ever be able to draw it all back neatly enough.

No solution is actually “better” than the other, but you can see how one has to deal with the pragmatic troubles of building a really big series.

I’ve been sleeping 3/5 hours a day this week and yesterday I decided to reply on a forum to explain my interpretation of how the magic system in the Malazan world works, especially because it’s one of those aspects where my own frame of mind seems completely different from that of the average reader. And yet I’m not merely speculating because everything I say I see it grounded in those pages. I’ve only dug it out and made it more explicit. And no, making the Malazan magic system explicit doesn’t remove the beauty and mystery as it usually happens when you over analyze these things. It flourishes.

So, two things for me to notice. The first is that somehow the more I’m exhausted the more my brain seems to kick into higher gear. The second is that I wrote this mostly to pin down my own idea for myself and I didn’t expect anyone even to read it, especially on a forum that seems antagonistic to everything I write (my fault), instead I was surprised to see that my enthusiasm for this thing managed to cross over to some other users. Maybe to see the Malazan series in a slightly different light.

I have some comments to write even about the first page(s) of Fall of Light, because it’s another case where what I read in those lines is something that no one seems to have picked up. And yet that one is very obvious…

I would have said the reverse – that Warrens are a clunky DnD type magic system, and that Erikson is too obsessed with the minutiae of how it works to give any meaning to it – worsened by the fact that his explanations are pure gibberish.

The magic system in Malazan is anti-mechanical. It’s strictly the opposite of science. You won’t grasp it if you parse it in a traditional way like a system of fixed rules in a roleplaying game. To explain the core of it I’d have to talk about philosophical concepts like “dualism” and an anthropocentric conception of reality.

The thing is: Malazan “spawns” from Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant (it’s not inspired by it, being completely different, but it’s conceptually hanging from the same branch of the same tree). Thomas Covenant is like a pre-modern version of fantasy, coming from a certain romantic tradition. That means, in the fewest words possible: the fantasy world doesn’t *exist* as external, objective reality as we assume our own world, but it’s just a “projection” of an internal mental or soul state. A mental “landscape” that turns concrete. Tangible objects and creatures you see are not simply tangible objects, but symbols. As it happens within a dream. The fantasy world is essentially like The Matrix, an artificial construction that closes around you. The writer consciously traps himself within this system he himself created, then “seals” the dome with some horizon occlusion.

Malazan moves from there, if you frame it as post-modern. It has a metalinguistic frame, observing the observation. Observing the world as an artificial creation. It’s like Covenant’s world, but moved on, looking at that world not from the inside (as Covenant, trapped within) but from the outside, like a writer, writing, observing himself writing. The main plot is hidden, because it’s a “shadow” of the text. A lot of this is even amusing wordplay, just for “fun” (see Shadowthrone and Pust, or even Lady Envy, or Kruppe a little bit, being conscious of the “meta” and rolling with it, hovering just a tiny bit above rules without completely breaking them). The magic in Malazan doesn’t make sense traditionally because it’s not a traditional mechanic. It’s not “rules of physics with a fantasy bent”. Magic in Malazan is pure meaning. Wherever meaning coalesces, magic becomes real and tangible instead of just an abstraction. Even the sedimentation of a strong emotion of a small community can potentially give birth to a small god (like the Cthulhu thing in book 5). The same as in reality we are driven by powerful symbols and meanings, that give us identity and drive. That construct our lives, creating differentiations as a linguistic system (see constructivism or even some Wittgenstein). Malazan takes this concept and makes it into something tangible instead of purely conceptual.

So, the important aspect to understand magic in Malazan is to observe how it transformed and evolved in the world. You notice how there are “old” gods and new gods. And you notice how the old gods have proprieties that are simply deduced from the societies that produced those gods. Very simple example: if the populations were sedentary or migratory. Essentially: all the gods in Malazan “behave” functionally as real gods in our own world. They are projections of cultural “meaning”. And that’s what you observe in the evolution of society within the Malazan world, the more it becomes “civilized” the more the gods become blurred, more subtle, representing more complex concepts. Gods evolve along the society that gave them birth. That, if you want to stay concrete, means that the relationship between gods and worshipers is circular. Belief shapes gods, gods have influence on believers. They use and are being used (see what Heboric does to Fener). It’s always a system of meaning, and it again comes from a fantasy world that is built as an anthropomorphic creation. A body, that Erikson SHOVES in your face when he tells you magic begins with Krul, who’s a god, who created magic with his own body. Or even with Erikson’s version of “gaia” the earth: Burn. Or the Mhybe, that is the MOST important thing within all Malazan. A woman who becomes a world. It’s only through a body that meaning can be created (witness!). Krul creates differentiations within his body, going from chaos to law. To rules. To systems (or same as the Crippled God has to enter the Deck of Dragons system in order to “play” the game, where “playing the game” is yet another metalinguistic pun, since we’re talking of a card game based on tarots). Exactly like a cultural system, or the evolution of civilization. So, as in Thomas Covenant the “fantasy world” is a body. An anthropomorphic creation. A filter, a lens you use to observe human life, through human life, through the act of writing (and act of reading as a surrogate of it, or, like, parasitic, or like a bird perched on Erikson’s shoulder observing what he’s doing with the hope of understanding some of it).

Like a linguistic system the Malazan magic has a diachronic dimension that is even more important than synchronic aspects: it’s ever-evolving.

That again means this fantasy world is built as human-sized (even when it project human fears or human struggles, that look inhuman, it’s always circular. Same as even the most inhuman species are still kind of human representations anyway). Whereas our own would is (supposedly) built on science. Rules, math. Stuff that is alien to a human dimension, that you can only try to grasp, but that is qualitatively different. (see Heboric flying with the Jade statues in book 4, those statues represent something closer to our world) Something that David Foster Wallace also writes about and defines: “the widening gap between knowledge and experience”.

Or: post-modernity. Trying to come to terms with a world that makes no “sense” anymore.

Bakker writes the same stuff, but from a different angle. So it’s like if it’s complementary and opposite to Malazan.

This is the stuff I like. If you know more of this kind I’d love to hear about it. Sadly I really haven’t found anything that comes close… (well, Evangelion, Donnie Darko, Upstream Color, Battlestar Galactica and LOST, these do certain things on the same line with their mythology, but none do it as well and, MOST OF ALL: *coherently* as Malazan)

I have Fall of Light and will start very soon, I’m now back reading the final part of The Bonehunters, as well the last 300 pages of A Dance with Dragons. It makes for a nice and interesting contrast.

These last few days there has been at least a little noise about R. Scott Bakker. The new book is imminent (July) (actually only the first half of the first book, something that makes me very upset) but the first reviews are coming out as well as sample chapters that, in Bakker’s case, are always enough for plenty of discussion and speculations.

But my attention was caught by a specific aspect that I consider very interesting. What’s the “EAMD bullshit”? Here’s a quote:

Ever Are Men Deceived. It’s shorthand for the psychobabble that Bakker tends to get into in the middle of, like, random sentences. The crossed-out part above is an example. You have a woman running around desperately trying to find her young son in the middle of her enemy storming the gates and a full-blown riot. So…naturally she reflects on how prior knowledge influences actions and guides the course of events

This is the pertinent quote he gives (the italics are not Bakker’s):

Our knowledge commands us, though our conceit claims otherwise. It drives our decisions and so harnesses our deeds—as surely as any cane or lash. She knew well the grievous fate of little princes in times of revolt and overthrow. The fact that her husband’s Empire crashed down about her was but one more goad to find her son.

And here’s how he comments it:

Esmenet’s chapter would be amazing if he could just stop talking about the EAMD bullshit every other sentence. She’s panicking, she’s crying, and then she’d thinking that ya know, everyone is controlled by what came before and the history of their world and blah blah blah.

Seriously, edit that shit out. The first paragraph here is totally unneeded, at least the two sentences. It robs the story of the drama and panic that Esme has in the moment. She’s a parent. She’s not thinking about how knowledge command us. She’s thinking that in sieges and revolts princes die.

That’s it. That’s her motivation. We don’t need more than that. We don’t need to jump from point to point. Just that mantra – in sieges and revolts princes die.

Well, there’s indeed a noticeable slip into third person. That’s why it would be interesting to discuss it with the writers themselves, not even just Bakker.

These days we are used, especially in fantasy, to this “third person limited” perspective, and it happens that when some structure is universally used it becomes canon. People get used to the canon and if you suddenly don’t respect it then you’re doing something wrong, or giving a feeling of wrongness to the reader. In this case I wonder, is that simply a slip, a stylistic quirk or vice, or a *deliberate* slip?

I use to think at this third person limited point of view as a bird that alights on the shoulder of a character and speaks for him. But sometimes it’s the bird talking, you just don’t notice. Or the bird can alight from that shoulder and land somewhere else. A meta-structure. Self-awareness? Erikson in the eighth Malazan book uses Kruppe, a character in the book, as a framing device. Commentary. It’s one further loop of that voice, another lens that bends the light of the story.

As a reader, the more you play with this, the more you have my attention. Writing about writing. It’s not a slip, a mistake, it’s grasping the structure itself.

David Foster Wallace in a short story titled “Mister Squishy”, part of the “Oblivion” collection, has a sudden shift, mid-sentence, in the middle of the story, from third person to first. It’s one of the biggest chills I ever got while reading a story. Only then you realize the story was always told in first person. Of course that’s deliberate, if a bit gimmicky. It’s part of the experimentation, playing with the rules to obtain an effect. Or just put the reader off balance by failing to conform to certain expectations. It’s a sense of vertigo, and it can be very powerful.

It might be asking Bakker too much to actually play even more explicitly and deliberately with structure, and drag the point of view breaks even more as a plot point. It still might be just a slip, or simply a measured consideration, where the effect and the message were considered more important than submitting to a rigorous structure.

Martin is absolute king, in my reading experience, of dealing with this third person limited. Better than everyone else by far. There are still “slips”, for example in descriptions, but they are always “transparent” for the reader, so you can never catch the bird talking, it’s always the character. Martin never actually slips, never wanders off.

Bakker might be seen as having this voice driving a point, using characters as metaphors. Erikson? I’m not even sure and I’ll observe with more attention. Erikson deliberately breaks structure even if usually sticks to third person limited as the norm. I remember at least one case where in a single scene the bird jumps shoulders. Maybe Erikson just doesn’t give much authority to the rule of the structure and, if the story is better serviced that way, he makes exceptions without hesitation.

“Stop the EAMD bullshit” is a mantra that works perfectly well for Erikson too, after all. That’s what I often read in forums (“I wanted to see more action. If I wanted unlikely philosophical conversations I would read Dostoevsky.”). Yet that’s why I read these books. Because they just don’t repeat and conform to the rest of the genre. Wouldn’t it just be more carefully hidden and unaddressed sleight of hands? I want those voices. I treasure that self-awareness, those layers of commentary that bend the angle, that disrupt the natural flow. Sometimes you have to break this habit of just slipping into stories, of immersion. Sometime breaking the immersion you very carefully built might even be the point. Show a deceit, seize that structure. But, of course, the higher you aim, the higher the risk. You might even slip and it makes for a clumsy fall. Part of the deal? Accept it.

Well, that’s an oxymoron. Article on the New Yorker:
http://www.newyorker.com/culture/sarah-larson/an-open-letter-to-the-white-walker-army

Even Jon Snow, who, as several characters reminded us, has a pretty face and a sympathetic backstory, isn’t enough to provide all the human intrigue in a scene with seven million undead C.G.I. assholes.

“Game of Thrones,” which is part fantasy, is also mostly a drama, and those of us who are there for the drama, White Walker Army, and for the comedy, such as it is, rate you very low on the emotional-realism scale. We dread your appearance not just because you threaten Jon Snow and his cohorts but because you threaten to drag the show we love further into a realm that we find tedious. As a friend texted me recently, “It’s turning into a video game.”

The reaction I saw to this was about the attack on the genre elements of the show, that a part of the public certainly likes very much, but I’m not interested specifically on that aspect today.

I also believe, and have written a few times, that the more ASoIaF moves away from the political backstabbing and toward its more fantastic elements, the more it actually loses its shine and appeal. It’s not so much because I personally dislike fantasy in my novels (obviously), but because Martin’s skills don’t seem to be there. He’s good at writing the other stuff. So the series seems more on a downward trend not because of its sprawl, but because its direction (ice and fire) is less brilliant and inspired than its core (game of thrones).

I felt something similar when I was reading Erikson’s “Memories of Ice” the third book, also specifically about another zombie army. I could see what the author was trying to do, but I simply did not think it could be achieved. It would be a failure, for reasons that are similar to those expressed in that New Yorker article. Yet Erikson managed to pull it off by resorting to a certain “trick”. And it worked! It was brilliant and it managed to achieve that ambition I thought simply not possible.

Martin is not done, so we all have to wait to see if he pulls it off, or even WHAT he’s trying to pull off. But I think he has a more traditional interpretation of fantasy and that he’s not interested in digging deep. It’s just a layer. But because of this, there’s the risk of disappointment when the reveals will kind of fizzle out, or will look like dry CGI.

The TV show had the merit of pulling in the general public, but to a lot of them the “fantasy” in it still feels tacked on. Something they tolerate more than something they enjoy.

Despite loving Malazan and thinking it has no challengers for what it does within its genre, I also do think it’s weak on certain aspects.

I tried to explain as a mix of aesthetic joined with depth and meaningfulness. The same as you’d get when looking at densely decorated architecture, but where each single decoration isn’t meant to be merely beautiful to stare at, but also with a dense symbolism and meaning.

Games, books, movies or whatever else, if there’s support for deep mythology and where no detail is left to chance. This myth comes from Tolkien. It’s not just in service of “realism”, and so immersion, but also as a way to reward digging and discovering what’s hidden in that depth. It means engaging with the medium, being part of it, enjoying revelations and epiphanies in those rare occasions when everything locks perfectly together, or perfectly realigns to show a new perspective.

Looking for hints, have your mind making the connections, slowly getting closer to find a solution, or a compelling interpretation. This is all about complexity and detail worth having. A medium that matures and takes itself seriously.

A lot of what I tried to describe in abstraction is already possible in the Malazan we have. It part of what makes it really good. And it is also what Malazan has in common with the approach to the lore and storytelling in the “Souls” game, including and in particular with the latest: Bloodborne.

Bloodborne is that aspect of Malazan turned into game. That aspect of active entertainment. Where the medium demands and requires that you engage actively. The problem is: Bloodborne does it even better.

If you know very little or nothing about Bloodborne then here’s an article that will tell you about story and mythology:
http://www.kotaku.co.uk/2015/04/09/whats-really-going-on-in-bloodborne

I couldn’t avoid thinking that the whole of Bloodborne not only would fit perfectly in Malazan, but it would be exactly what “Night of Knives” could have been if it was pushed to its full potential. Night of Knives is that same story, only missing that particular “heft” that is instead fully realized within Bloodborne.

The basic structure of the town turned into hunting grounds and dream dimensions bleeding into reality during a special night (and the moon), is not only the common link between the book and the game, but also the manga “Berserk” by Kentaro Miura, that we know for sure has been a major source of inspiration for Hidetaka Miyazaki, the designer of Bloodborne. These three, Berserk, Bloodborne and Malazan go hand in hand (and of course heavily influencing all three is Lovecraft). The only difference is that Malazan swallows them in a much bigger picture. Yet the other two seize aesthetic and mythology, that smaller slice, and realize them even better.

Not to say Night of Knives is a bad book, but it falls shorts (very short) of that potential that was there. And I’m thinking of a potential that not even Erikson could realize.

So this is what I’m trying to point out: some of the ingredients that make Malazan great are ingredients that went into Bloodborne. Those aspects that come out even more clearly in Bloodborne. And what Malazan lacks when compared not to similar works, but when compared to its own ideal potential, is what instead a game like Bloodborne fully delivers.

(Non-spoiler) quotes from the recent QA about the series on Tor. Erikson’s own words:

Writing it felt like more than one lifetime: it felt like hundreds of lifetimes, all crowded into a single place and a single time.

I died and was reborn a thousand times in these ten novels, and I wonder now how many times a single soul can go through that.

I laid traps for you time and time again, pits for your unwary headlong rush – the plunge intended to make you feel whether you wanted to or not. With luck, you stepped into a few of those. If I was a god, I’d throw you into every one of them.

That last one is almost chilling (see in the context of the “Magus” recent quotes here on the blog). I have this idea that Erikson isn’t completely conscious of the implications of what he writes, yet he shows being so lucid.