“This River Awakens” is a book written by Steven Erikson (as Steve Lundin, his real name) whose publication (1998) precedes “Gardens of the Moon” by one year. This makes probably his first published work ever. It is going to be republished next year by Bantam UK, and it seems that this new version will differ in some ways:

I know I battled with an editor over my first novel, This River Awakens, and on some fronts I lost that battle — which is why the re-release of that novel will see my fixing it and thus bringing it closer to its original, un-surrendered state. And I use the [nonexistent] term ‘un-surrendered’ quite deliberately here, because I felt that in losing those battles I surrendered some of the sanctity of that novel, and that it suffered for it.

Since I was curious about some opinions on that book I was able to get an used copy of the first version. I was expecting to find some talent in embryonic state, that would then develop in the Malazan series as we know it. Something “greener” than Gardens of the Moon, which is usually considered a bumpy ride on its own. Instead I could be totally fooled if you told me this was Erikson’s most recent and mature book, the result of his craft being honed through 3 millions+ words.

One would also expect that a story set in our world and without fantasy elements would have a kind of prose that is far, far away from Malazan stuff. Instead it couldn’t be closer and even more powerful, as there’s not a secondary world to “separate” and insulate the feelings coming from it. Prose and characterization as sharp as they can be, seemingly coming from an author at the very apex of his possibilities.

I wanted to put here some quotes to show a couple aspects. The beginning of the book is similar to the beginning of Memories of Ice, and you can see how the style carries over (to non-fantasy stuff) without losing anything of its power and suggestion (and the first line is worth among the memorable ones).

Memory begins with a stirring. Spring had arrived. There was life in the air, in the wind that turned the cold into currents of muddy warmth. And life in the ground as well – a loosening of the earth and its secrets, a rustling of spirits and the awakening of the dead.

Like remembrance itself, it was a time when things rose to the surface. Forces pushed up from the tomb of wintry darkness, shattering the river’s ice and spreading the fissures wide. Sunlight seeped down, softening the river bottom’s gelid grip. And things were let go.

What I look on now, after all these years, is a place of myth. For this was a place that told us that there was more than just one world.

This instead a quote from later in the book, again displaying a power of prose and anthropomorphic style of description that permeates everything. The “simple” world seen by a young boy.

The machine in the driveway seemed to be decomposing all on its own: every time I looked it was smaller, as if, now that its soul had been exposed, it was crumbling under the sun. Father had removed most of the larger parts and had carried them into the garage, where each part was placed in its own bucket of gasoline, like organs in jars. A pool of black oil had spread out from the machine – a tar pit collecting plant stuff, insects – I grinned at the thought – woolly rhinoceroses, mastodons…

The pool’s placid surface showed nothing – it might be miles deep – there was just no way to tell. Somewhere under that surface might hide the history of mankind, of the whole world. And, somewhere down in the thick, congealing blackness, there might lie giants, suspended for all time.

But when I picked up a stone and dropped it into the pool it was, of course, less than half an inch deep. And the machine was not the body of some god, exposed and bleeding out Creation like an afterthought. It had no soul, only parts, and none of those parts worked. And it was not as massive and imposing as it had once been. Still, since I as yet had no idea of what its function might be, there was an air of mystery about it; a secret with all the clues laid out, yet still a secret.

I left the garage and walked to the front porch. The door opened and Father stepped out, dressed as usual in his blue coveralls. Placing his hands on his hips, he glared at the machine, then sighed.

“Think you’ll get it to work?” I asked.

And finally another little quote because it’s pertinent with the discussion over at Scott Bakker’s blog:

The room reeked of blood and bile, and the hot air seemed laden with steam. Laughter filled Sten’s skull – the monsters. And yet, suspended somewhere in the haze of his thoughts, remained a detached awareness – a small piece of sanity looking outward into the maelstrom, offering comments now and then with a voice cold and sardonic. Of course they’re laughing, the voice told him now – look around you, Sten, smell the air, taste your lips. It’s reality that’s all around you now, Sten, and it’s no different from this pleasant little house that’s in here – right inside your head. You’ve done it, Sten. You’ve achieved the dream of a million philosophers. You’ve shaped reality to fit your ideal, to a tee. Aren’t you proud?

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