Category Archives: Books

The last few days I’ve returned to some things.

Looks like I missed the last Esslemont book with the bad AI cover. It seems relatively well received. For some reason I have the first and third in the series, but not the second. Probably because I couldn’t find the hardcover at the time. Erikson should be busy with the second book of the “sequel” trilogy, but from bits of information I found he also started the final book in the prequel trilogy, and said it was growing big. But then I also read there’s a part about Kallor that might be split into its own book? I’ve been reading the beginning of Fall of Light over and over, I just re-read parts of it. For some reason I don’t want to read it to the end.

Janny Wurts is finishing her own giant project next year with the last book, to be released in May, I think. It’s nice to see ambitious projects that get realized. Tad Williams last book also being delayed to fall of 2024. The publishing industry is at its weirdest. Sanderson too has the fifth book in his big series to come out in fall 2024. That’s where I draw the line because even if he’s a machine he also slowed down, and it’s not so reasonable to plan a 10 book series where it takes 3 years and more for each book, while you also work on countless of other projects, including other book series… and then have a gap between book 5 and 6 to deal with other things. Thematically book 5 closes some kind of cycle, whatever happens past that point is not to be taken for granted…

Of course Martin is stuck in limbo. I’d be less concerned about when the book(s) come out, realistically, and more about the fact that I feel he’s completely lost control on the whole project. I expected that the end of the TV series, rather than give him encouragement, only sowed more doubts.

Bakker has been MIA.

So I read bit of books here and there, because I’ve been distracted by other things. I wanted to continue where I left with Bakker, somewhere within book 3, but I was going to restart from the beginning of the book. And then I thought, why not restart from the first one…

The first few lines resonate with everything beyond.

It is only after that we understand what has come before, then we understand nothing. Thus we shall define the soul as follows: that which precedes everything.


There is a superficial, common way of understanding the first line. We truly understand events with the wisdom that comes with time, long after they happened. “We understand nothing” reads like an admonishment. But that’s the thing with Bakker, it’s never rhetorical. The argument here is literal. It follows one of those cycles: if it’s only after that we understand present time, then understanding is always escaping. Because we don’t understand the present in the moment we are understanding. See the difference? Superficially “we understand nothing” is rhetorical: because we understand SOMETHING. We understand what has come before. So it reads like an cynical exaggeration. But the actual meaning is like the Liar’s Paradox, we are fooled in the segment, but are actually bound in a loop. We don’t truly understand anything if the moment of understanding is itself escaping. There is no closure there. We are ever moving toward, or away from meaning. But never actually seizing it.

The second line mentions a “soul”. Itself a vague concept, but representing some sort of original mystery. It’s what we’re drawn to. The center of the attention. It is vague but important: we know the soul is the place where answers are found. It’s the place where present time and understanding are in sync. If we define the soul as that which precedes everything, then it’s meant as the ORIGIN. It’s the point either where the loop is started, or escaped. The Breaking of the Vessel, so to speak.

Already here there’s the whole concept of the “Darkness That Comes Before”. The idea of men creating gods, and then placing them before themselves. The gods create the world and men both. A pattern that returns many times through the book, in various forms.

“What came before?” There’s this 2017 video where Bakker says he was a kid writing philosophical thoughts on a typewriter, in red ink. And got himself spooked after writing that thought X is caused by though A, which itself is caused by thought B. And so on. Who is the original “mover” of these thoughts? I think he was spooked more about the fact of seeing it in red ink, and as if the typewriter took control of itself. Those thoughts aren’t spooky because of notions of free will, but because they become foreign. Who’s writing? Not me. Who’s this? Who else is here? It’s like a typical scene in a horror movie, where you see a typewriter start writing on its own, or writings appearing on the walls, written in blood. It’s almost schizophrenic: external, intrusive thoughts.

Then the actual Prologue starts:

One cannot raise walls against what has been forgotten.

This has a practical function, since it introduces what will be explained later. But here walls are meant as defense. If you forget about the threat exists, then how can you defend yourself from it?

But it’s also related to the wider theme, and so to the lines just above. Something not understood is just like something forgotten. Not perceived. That soul becomes then not just the mysterious place you’re drawn to, to find answer. But also the monster in the closet. A place of very basic fear. Of unknown that already seizes you. And how can you rise walls, how can you defend from that which you don’t understand? How can you protect your identity?

I didn’t know where I was. I guess I’ll start again from the beginning.

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.

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.”

(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).


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.)

(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:

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.
The 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.

“Is that a decent reason?
Just ’cause others think you’re true?
You need to have good reason
to believe the things you do.”

“Should one take ideas on faith?
Or turn them on their head?
Look at them from all angles?
Think the opposite, instead?”

“Our gang has this idea.
Are you with them, or us?
Truth’s contingent on my tribe?
Belong, don’t make a fuss?”

From “XX”, by Rian Hughes.

One of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen (and held). Look it up. It’s a novel, graphic. To not be confused with a graphic novel.

(the binding could be better, and the paper too, but it’s still a pretty good price for what it offers)

A “first contact” novel as if written by an hybrid of Danielewski and Grant Morrison. And it doesn’t seem to trade words for just artsy white space. It seems to strike a good balance.

I’ve just witnessed the shitstorm on twitter. Most of it goes over my head and I don’t have the desire nor the capacity to measure and understand it. Internet culture these days demands too much to be parsed, and it’s definitely not worth the time required to do so.

The fundamental problem is that the best possible action is: do not participate. And the reason for that is also simple: when an argument is set up in the worst possible way, then no amount of arguing is ever going to “solve” the conundrum. The problem is not people’s opinions and their “factions”, the problem is that the argument itself is set to be inflammatory. It is a “meme”, of a structure BUILT to bring permanent conflict. The purpose is to perpetuate itself, to self feed and grow over time. The key to understand these processes is to stay out of them. Avoid feeding them, because they are “alien”, parasitic.

If we really wanted to have a discussion (instead of finding reasons for conflict), we’d need setting up the context and the theme. The better the set up, the more likely the solution. In fact these days of opinions on the internet, the opinions themselves are worth shit. ALL OF THEM. It would be important instead to set up the field, objectively gathering the data and describing each point of view, how they relate to each other. Only then it’s possible to begin discussing something. The rest is only noise, all of it. Surface noise meant only to reinforce identity of this faction versus that one, and self-congratulate.

One of the best hints is when opinions voiced are non sequiturs. The problem is not WHAT people think, but that people don’t know how to think anymore.

And you can see this everywhere. From anti-vax to those who believe the Earth is flat, to politics, viruses and everything else. I’ve been saying this for a long while because it’s pervasive. We’re witnessing an epistemological collapse, and in each of these cases it is not what people think, but how people think. The argument IS NEVER the important part. It’s not important whether the earth is flat or a geoid or whatever else, what’s important is WHY you believe so. How you got there. If people still knew HOW to think, then we wouldn’t be worried about the content of those thoughts. And now we are too busy trying to correct what people think and believe, without understanding that this is just the beginning of a collapse. You cannot even expect to slow it down. It’s just “memetic”, a thing set on its course that no one can control anymore.

So I bring one example that I just read. It’s not meaningful, it’s not a starting point. It’s just an isolated case that, from my point of view, indicates how the discussion is completely hopeless. It leads nowhere because its only purpose is self feeding indefinitely to fuel some conflict.

I only quote it anonymously, since it’s not important.

[…] this really makes me aware how my early love of SFF was shaped by the stories I stumbled on: queer stories, POC stories, women-focused. My SFF is not The History of SFF.

My SFF is *also the history of the genre*.

And that’s absolutely 100% fine.

Who made me love SFF? Juliet Marillier, Lynn Flewelling, Marjorie Liu, Nalini Singh, NK Jemisin, Jacqueline Carey, Kate Elliott

That’s fine too.

But also: dubbed anime on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, manga, paranormal YA books, fanfiction, Disney; even the Mahabharata on Zee TV.

Still fine.

You can bang on about Campbell; it still won’t make him relevant to the way I approach the genre, or the way the genre is going to be.

And here is the problem.

In the same phrase, she goes from “won’t make him relevant to the way *I* approach” to “the way the genre is going to be.”

Who fucking cares that Campbell isn’t relevant to you? Campbell isn’t relevant to me, like, AT ALL. But I don’t go out of my way to attack SOMEONE ELSE because his views do not conform to mine. Why should the way you approach the genre be MORE relevant?

You, whoever you are, don’t get to decide what the genre is or what is going to be. Your choices and preferences are PERSONAL. You don’t get to APPROPRIATE what isn’t yours.

This is what is incredibly silly with the whole debate. It’s very obvious that The Hugos are used as a sort of ramming ship in a cultural fight. That’s fine too, if you want to give more visibility to certain writers, or shift the field in a way you think is preferable, that’s all fine and part of the exact same process that goes on about everything and everyone. It’s how cultures move. I don’t believe in progress, so for me all the cultural movement is generically a thing that happens, like the wind. It can bring positive change as well as catastrophic.

Yet, no matter how you believe yourself important, or even fundamental, you’re still just a small part of a process that functions even without you. Yes “your” SFF is also the history of SFF. An history that will always be greater and larger than you. And that you don’t get to define or contain.

People have this absolutely ridiculous and impossible desire to impose their own views on something so large and intrinsically alien that exists on a completely different layer of reality. The Hugos, like every other prize or cultural association in existence, don’t define anything, ever. The Nobel or the Pulitzer don’t define “literature.” They are only marketing, and trends, and inner currents, stories of personal successes and failures. It’s all about perception, and nothing is real.

That’s why when George RR Martin is invited at the Hugo, he’s going to talk about *HIS* SFF. Because it’s utterly ridiculous to expect anything else. His view on the Hugos as someone who’s been there for a lot of time, so part of the history of this particular thing.

This is the complete fuck up. People want the Hugos to be THEIRS. Martin instead spoke and celebrated his own cultural background, that brought a generational conflict with the newer audience and the implicit cultural flow that defines the “current” Hugo.

That’s fine too. You want to fight for the identity of this cultural movement, symbolically represented by the Hugo. Okay. It’s like a political party, you can fight for the governance to steer it the way you want, it is part of democracy and the movement of culture generically described above. You could even set up a blog or a youtube channel and give yearly prizes to your very own favorite writers. Totally fine.

By why the fuck you cannot have an ounce of respect, or even acknowledgement, that SFF is not YOURS, and that different people will have their own experience with it? Why cannot you just respect Martin’s experience in SFF? Why should you have the right to overwrite someone else’s view with yours?

I perfectly understand that people realized that Martin wasn’t the best choice for what the Hugos are right now, but that’s a kind of discussion that generally happens before, not afterwards. You don’t care about what Martin spoke about, you were bored, that’s fine. But you have to respect it as his views. If you invite Martin, then it’s only logical that Martin will speak about HIS SFF. If you want a more modern take, then you wouldn’t invite Martin. Would you like him to read a script you wrote so you can put your words into his mouth?

So, you can legitimately decide the cultural angle you want to give a cultural association. You can decide who to invite, to better symbolize the movement you’re dealing with. But you don’t get to go AGAINST someone else because he somehow defiled your cultural purity.

The Hugo might be yours, and yours to define. But the Hugo do not represents SFF, and SFF isn’t yours.

If your “prize” is all about advertisement, self celebration, and reinforcing in-group identity, that’s fine. Hollywood has always worked the same way, all about people reinforcing and celebrating each other to feel better than everyone else. But you’re always going to be parochial. And the more you believe how important, fundamental you are, the sillier you appear.

By the same definition, Martin is going to speak about his SFF. And because it’s “his” that it is generally interesting. Because it isn’t yours, or mine. So you’ll have a different, new point of view. It’s valuable because it doesn’t overlap with yours, so it gives light to a new area. You might not be interested, and that’s totally fine. You aren’t hostage to Martin’s views, you don’t have to read or listen to him. But you still respect it for what it is and you don’t get to cancel it because your cultural agenda has different priorities. You don’t overwrite other people experiences with yours. You won’t call for diversity while hating it, because even Martin’s age and aged views on the SFF genre are a valuable form of diversity. Especially if this diversity helps preserve something that would otherwise be forgotten. Canceled by time.

That’s what is wrong. The arrogance of the absolutism. The war for the hegemony. Imposing your own views, to others. Your moral compass, your sense of superiority. You are the mirror of what you’re supposed to fight.

…Instead for something far more obvious and without even a slight trace of nuance, there are these two twitter messages highlighted just below Martin’s:

That’s almost too perfect. It gets the whole range, from ridiculous false accusations, to threats, and then this arrogant idiot self proclaiming as the spokesperson for “the modern SFF writing community.”

Including the admission that the mob already decided on the truth, no matter what anyone has to say. Even funnier because the cute avatar makes it all the more hypocritical.

Pronouns seem to be a big deal these days. I propose to eliminate “we” and “us.”