He leaned closer, resting his elbows on his knees. “Your problem isn’t that you’re stupid. You’re not stupid. But you think that evil is like the Old Man, like Relos Var, like that thing sleeping in the middle of Kharas Gulgoth. You think evil is something you can just slay.”

I scoffed. “Should I point out that none of those are ‘something I can just slay’?”

“Oh, but you would try, wouldn’t you? Except real evil isn’t a demon or a rogue wizard. Real evil is an empire like Quur, a society that feeds on its poor and its oppressed like a mother eating her own children. Demons and monsters are obvious; we’ll always band together to fight them off. But real evil, insidious evil, is what lets us just walk away from another person’s pain and say, well, that’s none of my business.”

In the last couple of years priorities changed, so sitting down to read a book in a regular way became more rare. More recently I’ve tried to retrieve some of that but I decided that rather than resuming one of the many things I left behind, I wanted something fresh. Usually when I order and read a book it comes after a lot of pre-reading, researching both the author and the book. This time I decided to go almost blind. I don’t even remember how I got to this series. I probably saw it mentioned on some forum or twitter and then it came up a couple of times, commented as somewhat complex style of narration. I then looked it up and was surprised to know it was a series of five books, with four of them already out (at the time, now it’s complete), and three already in mass market edition. That’s… quite noteworthy, because it’s something that pops up and is already done. The first book came out in 2019, the fifth a couple of weeks ago. That’s five books in three years. The writer definitely delivered on her side of the bargain, I’d say.

Now that it’s all out we’re looking at slightly more than 1M words, with each book being of a similar size of around 200k or slightly more (the last one being the shortest, by a small margin). There are 90 chapters in the first book, meaning that they come and go fast, and it’s important to consider in light of what this book tries to be and wants to do. The reputation of the complexity of the narration comes for the structure. There are three points of view embedded. Two of them make the bulk of the novel and follow two different points in time. But both of them are about the same character, and the effect of this structure works quite well. Being the chapters themselves fast they create a pattern where even if you’re left at small cliffhangers, the return to this story is only a few pages away. The two points alternate regularly creating a kind of a chain that feels breezy and fun to read. And then you have the third point of view, that comes from the “pretense” of complex reading just because it’s about… footnotes. And footnotes have bad reputation.

For the whole first 100 pages or so (less so) I really didn’t know what to expect. Maybe I was just about to read a bunch of crap, it was in the possibilities. The writing, to me, felt not especially noteworthy, very sparse descriptions, not much setup. Some straightforward events being introduced. And there were these occasional footnotes that… didn’t add anything of value. They were some type of slightly witty commentary or infodump about worldbuilding stuff. Usually if there’s a layer of three different points of view (as I said they two main ones follow the same character, but one of them still counts as separate) I’d expect some ambiguity, unreliable narrators playing around with perceptions, subtlety, sleight of hand, to read between the lines. There isn’t much here, and the footnotes become more a way of explaining some aspects of the setting that wouldn’t be immediately familiar to new readers… Until I found out later in the book that the one compiling these notes isn’t some bystander, but an important character in the novel, that even begins commenting his own actions as they are narrated. This character being more subtle and interesting by himself, so making these footnotes much more an active part of the story, once that perspective is added.

It’s not a spoiler because it should be obvious since the first pages: the two levels of the narrative, chaining each other every other chapter, and following the two different points in time… Eventually converge into one for the last 100 pages, where you expect to find some kind of resolution. The whole book is actually written (within the scope of the story) after those three “points” are already done, the two pasts and “present”, but as I said in the end it’s only done to deliver a well done structure that encourages to keep turning the pages. But… What is it all about, in the end?

I said that I couldn’t have a clear picture when I started reading, and the part I enjoyed the least is the last 100 or so pages. Because after the thing is set up, it played out more or less as I expected. The book returns more within what you get from epic fantasy, so it matches expectations more than defying them. There are plenty of surprises, plot-wise, but they are what they are. But there’s still a whole book before that, and it’s actually very good. What it is about, and why does it work so well? Interactions. It’s well written and interesting to read because of the way characters react to each other. Dialogue. The main character doesn’t promise anything noteworthy, a typically know-nothing handsome guy destined to great things, whether they are good or bad. But he goes from a no one, to deal with important, scheming political figures in a matter of pages, and that initial ingenuity, while genuine, is short lived, nothing more than an illusion. In a similar fashion none of the characters are especially original, and yet all of them end up being so interesting because when it comes to interact with other characters they all seem instantly free of tropes, like they were never there.

I am used to characters brooding in self reflection, there’s very little of that in this book, and in a way that’s quite surprising. Even if it essentially follows very closely the main character, there are many moments where you don’t get what he’s thinking. You get the typical introspection that makes the character familiar, but there are also often moments when you’re only shown the results of some choices he makes. These surprises make the character proactive without being obscure, one step ahead of the reader, surprising in a positive way. And it’s not the main character, all of them receive the same treatment. None of them are strictly original, and none of them are built to defy a trope, turn it upside down. It’s more like the trope is entirely disregarded and these characters just have their novel interactions. There are so many scenes that are set up in a way that makes you feel what’s coming, and then the scene plays out and goes in a way that is just different.

Despite being 200k words, which is medium length epic fantasy, there are no sidetracks with a group of characters going for its separate adventure. The whole book does its thing, very narrowly focused. Not much happens, actually. The world building has some actual depth, but it also doesn’t borrow much space. Just dropped here and there. This might indicate a very slow moving book, but it’s exactly the opposite. It’s a breezy, fun read. So why? Because again it’s all in dialogue and interactions. Characters that shine when they meet each other, and the interaction feeling genuine a freely going. Honestly I could as well read on indefinitely having these characters live their lives, out of any urgency of plot. Why not. All characters surprised me more for their competence than their errors, free of affectation. Characters that I dismiss based on their premise, simply come back proving those premises didn’t exist. The only exception being dragons and demons, that whenever they talk sound like bad comic book caricatures.

What’s the story about? There are dragons and demons, and while being important, they are also very, very marginal in this book. The majority of it turns around some political intrigue and mystery of parentage. The protagonist is being shoved into very unfamiliar and hostile territory, only to prove he can navigate that space with wondrous competence. There are substantial aspects of the Game of Thrones, not strictly the book, but the powerplay, the family intrigue about “who’s the father, who’s the son” type of things. And then this main course gets layered with a more epic fantasy theme of gods meddling, and feisty demons feasting. There is one main gimmick that sustains the whole book. The technical gimmick is very simple to explain, but produces a kind of chaos that is hell to disentangle. And that’s great because it’s what a good gimmick should do. Simple to understand, but with greater implications. A clever trick, and it delivers plenty of surprises. I have a special weakness where it comes to grasp family relations, my brain just crashes, and I can easily say that at some point and some final revelations the book completely lost me.

And beware. I’m a type of reader that scours the book. At the end there’s a glossary with names and things, and a sort of family tree. Both of these massively spoiler many parts of the book. If you, like me, go to check out the glossary as soon something is mentioned, then you will often get a piece of information that in some cases would properly arrive some pages or chapters later, if not the whole book. It’s not a deal breaker. As I said the book thrives in dialogue and interactions of characters, the plot can be interesting, and work better without spoilers. But sometimes a tangle of relationships is even better to handle when you’re given some more pieces of information in advance.

I don’t know how the writer was able to complete the series in such a short span. This might have been a long project in conception, that has only been recently delivered to the publisher. Yet, it seems most of the actual writing happened in these last few years. It’s certainly impressive, and a rare thing to see a whole epic fantasy deliver as promised, ready to be read, without stretching to a different generation of readers because of how much time passed between books. I picked this up because I wanted something fresh, with the worry that I could be completely disappointed. I wasn’t at all. I enjoyed it fully. It’s an extremely consistent book, no ebbs, slow points. I said I didn’t especially like the ending as much of the rest, but it’s because I wanted the book to still tread new ground rather than fall back into epic fantasy norms. It’s as if for 600 pages it went out on a stroll to find its way, only to obediently return to some familiar safety. I like books that take risks, but it didn’t ruin or lessen the experience. The gamble to try something almost at random paid off.

“I am the Shield Anvil, and I am not yet done.”

(backup)

He growled a curse under his breath, then insisted harshly, “Delay doesn’t conform to your purpose or mine.”

“Time,” came the reply, “is not accessible to manipulation.”

As if out of nowhere, Vector Shaheed asked amiably, “Is that philosophy or physics?”

Whenever I mean to write something here, on this site, I hit some problems. The biggest one is that to write a thing I need at least two hours of undivided attention. But my attention is usually very divided, so things get postponed. After a few days I’ve already moved on to something completely different, and that means it gets increasingly unlikely that I get into the suitable mindset to write the thing I was supposed to. So things end up either unfinished, or not happening. Anyway…

This book brings me back. I started to read actual novels in English, not my native language, only after the summer of 2007. I also stopped reading fantasy and sci-fi many years before then. My return, and beginning with reading English novels, started with “The Real Story”, the first book in this “Gap” series by Donaldson. Reading the book in English for the first time was challenging but quite fun, and the choice of the book helped. It is short, almost novella-size, small scale, but also built like a puzzle that unravels page by page. Pulling aside the curtain of the language to understand its meaning was matched by the little pieces of plot that eventually come to compose “the real story”.

You won’t find a review of that book around here, because I only started writing right after it. Actually the fist book I began with, at the end of that summer, was The Eye of the World. But I read that in Italian, then moved to The Real Story, then The Great Hunt, which I did review, and then The Blade Itself… everything else followed. But by December I had the whole Gap series with me. I can look back and rebuild the timetable thanks to the blog, and CRINGE at what I was thinking and writing at the time… First, I have now a much better opinion of Donaldson’s fantasy side, and secondly, “kinky mindcontrol”… nope. There’s nothing “kinky” about it. And those few paragraph read like an apology of Angus Thermopyle, which is horrifying for me to read now.

What happened since then? The “reading progress” up here is stuck… to a few years ago. But I was using goodreads to track some progress (but this too would get ignored for a long time). I decided to reread The Real Story at some point during the first months of the pandemic. Then moved, during the summer of 2020, to Forbidden Knowledge, only to stop right halfway through. I restarted this January and since I didn’t remember all that much, I kept moving back chapters, to the point I’ve basically read the whole thing again from page 1. Curiously, the main reason why I got stuck, back in 2020, was that I was close to the end and I wanted to write something here, but I didn’t have the time. So I started reading other stuff, and again I drifted away. This time I finished the book, but once again I risked skipping writing about it, because already almost 10 days went by, and it isn’t easy to go back and retrieve my thoughts. I either write about things when they are fresh, or I don’t. But then I don’t have the time, and I delay… All this to explain why I usually don’t.

To write about Forbidden Knowledge I’d have to go back and reintroduce The Real Story, which is also unlikely because it’s been two years already. It’s hard for me to say I “enjoyed” the read, because things here are quite painful. These are stories about abuse. Heavy, painful abuse done by disagreeable characters, pushed to the extreme, and then pushed again further. The horror is not implied. The thing that Donaldson does best, especially in Forbidden Knowledge is giving you the first person perspective. The “I” that FEELS. There is no blinking, there are no eyes averted from the brutality. It goes deep, in the flesh, and the mind. The physical abuse is surpassed by the psychological, emotional pain, that ends up soaking everything. It’s not simple to “praise” this type of writing, but it is what it is. There are moments when the protagonist has a worry, in the back of her mind, that page by page worms its way up, until it becomes everything she sees, despite what happens all around her urgently demands her attention. This kind of obsessive whirlpool is the real engine of the story. It’s what pushes every character to do the impossible, whether it is to cause pain or desperate survival.

On the other hand, the plot is engaging. “The Real Story” has a feel so pulpy that it’s almost like reading Charles Bukowski in space. Even the technology is old-school, with a “retro” and gritty, grimy feel similar to Mad Max, but written so well that it makes sense. Computers and spaceships aren’t a noisy background, they are the pulpy meat of the plot. Rules kept simple, but well thought, so they they are pieces of information you can get familiar with. In the first book the story fits in your hand. A puzzle with many small parts that you assemble piece by piece, and the satisfaction of seeing it click. It’s space opera, but only engaging with three characters and a space station. It’s personal, it’s human, in all ways right and terribly wrong. “Forbidden Story” smoothly follows. It’s not anymore a puzzle with a solution, but a desperate attempt to an escape. So desperate that the only way is going deeper. Until the lack of an exit becomes the least worry. The abusers of the first book get their abuse served back to them, and then more. At some 2/3 though the book things start to get silly, to the point I honestly thought it was all going off the rails(*). But that’s where Donaldson has his skill. The story is rooted so well and deeply in the psychology of the characters that he makes the silly still make sense. The sense of urgency, of pain and even filth, don’t give enough space to disentangle emotionally. It works. Aliens step into the story, you get more infos about “the stage”, the story opens up. To a scale that isn’t anymore personal, but that is still 100% driven personally. I suppose things will continue to open and escalate in the following books.

But these two books are not made of two halves. The plot is entangled with the abuse. It’s a great sci-fi story, I think really well written, with vivid characters. It also means the abuse itself is vivid. It goes beyond a problem of “trigger warning”, but also why I end up praising it. That’s why I was wrong even joking about the “kinky mindcontrol”. There isn’t anything kinky or suggestive about it. There is no satisfaction in it, no matter how perverse. Donaldson describes it the way it is, with no qualms. It’s disgusting. What’s essentially a pulpy page-turner gets hard to read because the amount of ruthless, unrelenting abuse. This second book pushes it further, to levels that are absurd and unhinged. But here’s the point: this isn’t a story about villains. We generally end up praising villains that are well written, when they have plausible motivations. Here it’s one step beyond because the tables are turned, so many times. It’s not a case of a complex character that is well written. The abuse is so prominent that is is the theme. But it’s not about abuse, it’s about agency. And the questions being asked dig deeper than a villain with plausible motivations.

The first book was indeed about abuse. Ripping agency out of a victim, but the victim being smart and hard enough to be able to push back, with vengeance despite having no control and no hope. The abuser pushed so deep down his hole, leaving him howling in pain. In the second book I think roles don’t matter anymore. And the theme is pushed deeper. What is even agency when you can turn pain into pleasure by pressing a button. Donaldson, who wrote the deep emotional feel of a point of view on the page, breaks the rules. It opens the skull to play with the brain, to rewire it. But it is never the curiosity to make an experiment.

Characters still drive the plot. 100% of it. All the characters, even those on the side, have a reason to be where they are, and the pain they deliver to others is because they are also pushed to their limits. They try their best to survive, despite everything that happens around them pushes them to their limit. Then the limits are broken. Till the point Donaldson gives you a sense of annihilation. Where even survival is being doubted.

That’s why, for me, it’s such a great book. Every nuance and act of a character has a cause. Even when an abuser stops the abuse, it has a cause. The physical abuse is only superficial compared to the psychological and emotional. And it goes back and forward between abuser and abused that all roles vanish. Characters that are moved, by what they are and how they feel, so that they are trapped with themselves and in themselves. And you are in there, locked in there, with eyes wide open because there’s no other place to be. No escape, no elsewhere.

Dare you enter. Let the book tell its story.

(*)
Fun fact. The book I have has at its end an ad for the following volume… That in just a few lines of text contains a MASSIVE spoiler about something that happens in THIS book. Back in 2020 I read it, and so fell victim to that spoiler. When I picked back up the book early this month, a year and a half later, I completely forgot that part. So I un-spoiled myself.

I spotted a tiny recommendation for the Malazan series, on Twitter, and I got carried away adding some of my unsolicited thoughts to it.

I always said that Malazan is very hard to recommend to other readers. For example it’s a lot easier to recommend Sanderson, despite Sanderson not really needing any help to get known, since now he’s all over the place. But it’s accessible, and pretty good for a very wide range of reader types. You can read 100-200 pages and see by yourself where the qualities are. And know whether it’s your thing or not.

Malazan has this, instead:

To a certain extent, it’s true. But it’s still a narrow explanation. I ask often myself, why am I a Malazan/Erikson reader? What do I find there? Why it’s so important for me? Malazan is recommended a lot, often next to the more popular Martin and Sanderson, but I’m convinced it has a very low “success rate”. I mean readers who accept the recommendation, give it an honest try, but end up not enjoying the read at all. I always asked myself why.

For many, it’s all about a matter of taste and personal disposition. But that’s not a satisfying explanation for me. I always seek a reason, trying to find an objective motivation… that can describe what is that precisely works for me, and doesn’t for other readers. Many others.

I think I grasp at least some of the reasons why it happens. When I recommend Malazan I try to give objective, useful information. It doesn’t mean that I diminish the qualities there, but I do emphasize what the obstacles will be. And it depends on who’s on the other side of the recommendation. Because of the above, and because Malazan is huge, the main dilemma is that the reader doesn’t know if it’s worth committing. Therefore, the paradox: do I commit to read thousands of pages? Where is the threshold where one stops and decides if it’s worth continuing or better stop and read something else more satisfying?

That’s where I draw the line. Do you intend to commit to something huge, from the start? Fine, follow “the rules”. Start at the beginning. But if you are undecided, skeptical, and you want to know what’s there before fully committing, I’d suggest some …alternative, unconventional paths.

Garden of the Moon, the first book, is not a bad introduction to Malazan, but it is a bad introduction to Erikson. Its themes are buried very, very deep. Easy to miss. On the other hand you are buffeted by a million of things thrown in your face, constantly, vehemently. Scenes that seem inconsequential get lot of attention, scenes that are pivotal, or fundamental information end up being omitted only to be referenced offhandedly much later in casual conversation… or just vanish like a dead end. Sometimes things seem pointless, sometimes it all seems coming in the wrong order. Most readers feel confused, or detached from everything.

Eventually, through a lot of patience and a certain devotion, you read a few thousand pages and you have a map. You become the Malazan reader. Knowing where each piece fits, even appreciating the gaps, for they have an use too. You understand what, where, and why (a bit less when, but that’s not so important… Just to make a joke about the often criticized chronology that on occasions is a little wobbly).

Most successful writers use some proven “devices” to seize the reader. The book must have the reader in its center. The book is about Harry Potter, you identify with Harry Potter. The book is about you.

Me, me, me, me. I want the book to be about me.

The focus needs to be all about the reader, feeding this hole of attention. Malazan does some of this, but its greater part is the opposite. Kicks you out: fuck off, get out of the way. Take yourself out of focus, and maybe something worthwhile can be said. Stay quiet, observe. I’ll return to this…

Malazan is not lonely, but it is solitary, brooding, a bit forlorn. Especially now it represents the time. With lockdowns, being separate, and yet it’s now that we’re all connected, more than ever. And we can observe all, everything around us, collapsing. Governments that blindly repeat actions that have failed, imprisoned in a psychotic loop, rewriting and bending science to what’s more convenient. Over and over we know, with clarity, that measures are effective the more they are timely, focusing on prevention, and what we do is the opposite, we wait until too late, feeding onto a pervasive fatalism. We simply accept a number of deaths, making it a norm. Minimizing risks to make believe everything’s fine. Follow these five simple rules for a false sense of security. All because the world doesn’t want to change, and power needs to be preserved. And we can only observe, passively, this slow, progressive deterioration of reality itself. We just observe from our places. Solitary observers of something set into motion. Sorrowful but unable to act, like ghosts.

Malazan is the pain of the world, when it is spoken through a living or unliving mouth. You are meant as the vessel, Itkovian.

That’s why I sometimes I suggest a new reader to start with “Forge of Darkness”. If you are uncertain, whether or not to commit. You could start from the proper beginning, but you’ll have to dig, probably for a long time before you find those themes. Forge of Darkness is not an introduction, but it can be read on its own without prior knowledge. It might feel that you’re missing pieces you’re meant to know about, but you have to trust the text. The book is confusing even for veteran Malazan readers, in some cases even more because it plays around by scattering some expectations. You can go in blind, but read slowly, give it thought. Malazan is not a page turner, even if it has page turning scenes. Mull on the paragraph you’ve just read, not thinking about it only after you’re done. Dig for meaning.

Forge of Darkness is a brooding, mysterious book, but it has its themes on the front, explicit. Impossible to miss. You want to know what it’s all about without reading a million of pages, then it’s all here, wrapped up and well presented. One book, even if part of a trilogy it’s sufficiently self contained. Not an easy read, but it’s there, and you’ll see it.

But I wanted to go further. Condense more, to a point. What is Malazan about?

“Secret… to show… now.”

https://loopingworld.com/misc/erikson-test.zip

(This link includes two scenes, one from book 2 Prologue, one from book 7 Prologue. Six pages in total. No spoilers. You can read these without knowing anything else. The images are taken from Amazon previews.)

I read this prologue and this scene many months ago, but I immediately realized… This is Malazan, right here. Just three pages. It’s everything.

A woman walks up to this cliff. For the reader this is a blank page. You get the description of strong winds, the ocean beyond. Agitated waters. You get a mention of a Meckros City that sunk there. If you are new to the series you know nothing about it, but me, Malazan reader, don’t know all much more beside that these people built floating cities on the sea. So they knew how to be out in the ocean, and the fact they sunk here leaves an ominous feel about the place.

Like a painting, a white canvas, you add detail. Brush strokes. This vast open space in the ocean. You follow with your mind a small fisher boat, blown off course to these treacherous waters. Miraculously surviving the experience and reaching the shore. But something is missing from the picture. Something like a shadow, looming on the scene. Depending on what you use, there’s always an exclusive, irreplaceable quality. For example, in a movie you can use some tricks, but you show what you have to. The attention goes where it has to. But in a book, you control everything. You decide what is or isn’t there. Here you believe what you’re told. You have an ocean dominating the canvas, and then your attention is drawn to a tiny boat, thinking it’s the center, when it is instead pushed to the margin. There’s a giant shadow that dominates the canvas… but no perception of it. Just… A sense of urgency. A secret… to show.

The wind pushes her away, she endures. Drawn to this shadow. Some more details seep in, but the scene is interrupted by “a presence at her side”. A distraction. A merchant she completely ignores. He makes his presence known, loudly. He’s ignored again. The shadow is there, like a tear in reality. The wind rushing out of it, from a different world (a warren).

“Preda?”
“What?”

He tries to shake her as if she’s asleep or in a trance. She didn’t turn to him, she didn’t acknowledge his presence. It’s the shadow that draws her. And bit by bit, it is revealed. Half a million people that just vanished.

It’s already all here for me. The way a mystery is shaped, the choice of what is and isn’t shown, the momentum leading to the revelation. The contemplation, and an environment that takes shape to become a character. Telling its story, piece by piece. The sense of urgency that builds up… for something already happened, already over. The scene, beside the wind, is quiet. You don’t need to read 500 pages for the solution, in two/three pages you get both the set up and the pay off. A book of 900 pages, in a series of 10 book, and you get the pay off in three fucking pages. The mystery isn’t inflated and built by pretense, it’s there. Immediate. Fully delivering its awe. And when the answer comes, to fully deliver its promise (what is she seeing, why does the sight chill her?) you get an opening for more. It’s just an introduction.

And, why not? We see a woman, commanding the military, ignoring and then bossing around a rich, probably powerful merchant. There is no emphasis about any of this. It just is.

(imo, this scene already has too much dialogue, too many asides. It could have used less. Erikson, who’s never generous, already gives too much. Erikson works better the more he’s entrenched. Going the opposite way. Say less.)

I’m not commenting the other prologue scene because there’s a lot, and most of it is quite explicit, even if open ended. But it’s ironic that I could write a lot about those first three lines: “What see you in the horizon’s bruised smear, that cannot be blotted out by your raised hand?” What other witty commentary is possible when it’s all so straightforward?

Well, for me Malazan is always about a sense of scale. Big books, each one, ten of them. A sense of history, a large cast of characters, a big world, creatures, dragons. And yet it thrives on the small, intimate. Introspection. Often duos on their solitary journeys, like Mappo and Icarium. The human, more intimate scale (hand) is always the view on the world, on things much bigger, the gods, alien worlds (the horizon). A sense of reality that has to go through the filter of human perception. The world through, or into your hand. Animated. A construct. Maybe even a pretense of control, that is always mocked. Gods that are dragged, taken down. Heboric again. Erikson always plays with scale, and knows what he’s doing.

(btw, Paran – Felisin – Laseen, make an important pillar for the first FOUR books. And it’s omitted. Nothing about it is shown. Imagine reading Game of Thrones… and there’s no chapter on the Starks. The story is the same, you just don’t get any direct view of them.)

Malazan can be summarized in a word, a concept. Malazan is… “contemplative.”

It is all about the voice. If you take Lord of the Rings and you know Tolkien was a linguist, you’ll realize that everything that makes LotR what it is, to its core, is language. Language is the filter for everything, something that Bakker understood really, really well. It’s not one possible angle on that book. It is everything. It’s a dimension. Even the metaphysical/religious aspects are all about language (the elves who represent art, immortality, the god-like power of creation, and the world that begins shaped by music, all is a form of language).

Something similar happens in Malazan. Erikson was an archaeologist. This well known fact is often used to explain why the worldbuilding is so good. Because that knowledge gives Erikson a way to look at things, make them more realistic. But I think that worldbuilding in Malazan is extremely overrated. Even Sanderson that I mentioned above does worldbuilding better and more meticulously. What Erikson does is something else, and it is pervasive in the same way language is pervasive in LotR. An archeologist is someone who walks onto a site. He looks around, observes. Contemplates. He reads the place. In his mind he interprets the signs he sees, connects them. He imagines the people there, the culture, the life and blood. He walks though a place that is no more, and yet still there. Like a ghost, walking through an alien world.

Being an archaeologist, an observer of human culture, isn’t an angle, a point of view. It is an enclosure of the world. A receptacle, a symbol. An almost religious experience. Like Heboric before the Jade Giants.

How to observe the world, species, your people, your life?
How to understand things, how to give them meaning?

The same as Heboric in front of the Priest of Hood, there is a sense of urgency. But it’s about the world, not you. The observer is Felisin, not Heboric. It is not you. Felisin that came from a different world:

“The same city, but a different world.”

Passivity is her theme through the book. The flies crawling on her thighs are the least terrible thing that is going to happen to her, nothing is normal anymore. Her world collapsed, leaving her not even scared. Just numb.

This flow of human events that seems nonsensical, vain, empty.

Like Heboric watching the Jade giants, Heboric and the ghosts of a world that is no more: I observe my time as if I’m outside, but I am in it. And yet outside, observing with an external god-like quality… of inaction (powerlessness). There’s nothing to judge, because it’s like a river. It goes downhill. It’s not its merit, it’s not its fault. You get to understand it only when you aren’t anymore part of it. Because when you are in it, you are swimming for your life. The world is about you. You cannot understand the world until you surrender yourself to it. Until you stop pretending to decide its course.

Silence your ego, lets the world speak with its own voice. You stop deciding, you start understanding.

The secret of Malazan is transforming its readers in… Ascendants. From reader to witness. We are the witnesses, from this outside. Given sight.

The writer is a jade giant, the reader is a jade giant. We are all jade giants. We watch. Erikson teaches how to tune in. To the hum of the world. We give voice to these otherworldly giants. We are receptacles. We are vessels of the world. We do not find answers, we must answer.

(The buzzing of Hood’s files, they speak. The buffeting wind, it speaks. “The world is very, very old.”)

(In Game of Thrones Martin transforms Bran into a tree. He can do it. In Malazan, he cannot do it, Erikson transforms the reader.)

I’ve followed the original mini, this was the last part.

A follow through is deserved. So what happened to the grand, ambitious X-Men run by Jonathan Hickman?

It ended in a trainwreck.

It’s Hickman himself to explain, earlier this year:

When I pitched the X-Men story I wanted to do, I pitched a very big, very broad, three-act, three-event narrative, the first of which was House of X.
[…] as a three-year plan

I was also pretty clear with all the writers that came into the office what the initial, three-act plan was so no one would be surprised when it was time for the line to pivot.

during the pandemic, when the time came for me to start pointing things toward writing the second-act event, I asked everyone if they were ready for me to do that, and to a man, everyone wanted to stay in the first act.

the reality was that I knew I would be leaving the line early.

So after Inferno, I’ll be leaving to go work on my ‘Next Big Marvel Thing™’

I pruned the rhetorical noise.

The truth of it is that the ambitious project went nowhere. The original 12-issue mini presented a grand plan, followed by its first expansive arc titled Dawn of X, followed this year by Reign of X, and moving now into Destiny of X, I think now lead by Kieron Gillen. (if you, despite everything, still want to read this, I suggest the release order)

The project already went off the rails during the first year, so it’s not surprising that it ended with a trainwreck. Dawn of X didn’t even seem a sequel to the original story, it was all over the place and lacked the cohesion you would expect, and that was promised… Since House of X was just a setup for things to come. That didn’t come.

Rather than this expansive story in three acts we only got a clumsy 20%. We’ll never know the truth about why Hickman left it so incomplete. If we trust his words then it’s probably a mix of him wanting to support other writers while at the same time feeling like the story wasn’t anymore under his control. So he shrugged and left. He’s being paid anyway, and will continue to receive undeserved critical acclaim.

But it was also rather predictable. Marvel’s comics in general are in a really bad shape that more or less resembles to the collapse of the late 90s. There are many reasons for this and I’m not going to examine them here.

I’m disappointed because regardless of the quality of the stories from this point onward, and despite my original lack of trust on Hickman, I still wanted to see where it was going, and I still wanted him to have full control of it to the end. As I wrote before, I appreciate the ambition, and whether or not I like the story, I still want it to be fully realized as the author intended. Only when it’s done and wrapped up I can comment it for its merits and failures.

But this just went nowhere, and not only it is bad because we’ll never know how it was meant to be, despite following and trusting it for so many pages, but it also diminishes what is already there, because the whole thing collapses.

Please do not make grand plans if you don’t have what it takes to complete them. In the case of Hickman: please do not write grand things if you don’t give a shit. Are you trying to imitate J. J. Abrams?

I’ve picked up the terrible habit of reading a few chapters of a book, then move to another, and so on and on. Even when I come back to the same book I read it again from the beginning. The circle is so wide I could continue forever.

The only one I was able to complete is The Skylark of Space. Probably the worst book I’ve ever read.

The last I started, instead, was Bleak House by Charles Dickens, I read this in 2009, but only got to page 450 or so, then I couldn’t resume because there was a gap and I forgot everything. So now I’m reading it from the beginning, and I already know I probably won’t even get to the same point where I left…

The introduction to the book by Terry Eagleton is noteworthy.

(This may appear as me poking fun at supposedly high literature and being sarcastic… But I’m not. I mean it. It is indeed the ideal height of it all. A true erection of sense and purpose. A monument of the sacred. You see this and think these professors are just like us, and it’s all a fraud. But nope, they just have fun, make you believe you’re in the same league, buddy, but they’re not.

We are the same, and then not.

And this goes ’round and ’round, a loop of uncomprehending comprehensions…)

The article is here, and it is good:
https://dalkeyarchive.substack.com/p/how-does-this-get-read

A reminder that I bought the physical book a while back, still a treasured thing.

The first image is from that article I linked. I’ve verified it’s in the physical book, page 127.

The following three are just other instances I found, pages: 1328, 1141 and 1310.
Thee fourth image is from another High End classic: William H. Gass “The Tunnel”, page 92 (of the edition I own).
The final quote is again from Bottom’s Dream, page 1068.

Still quite kissabell’ ‘nfackt, those rondelles.