Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ecce gratum!

The spring break post has turned into a fortunate tradition... I finally have the time to collect a few thoughts, sit down, and shape them into something hopefully readable. This one is brought on by my third-favorite Wikipedia article as of late.

My favorite article is the one about A Dance with Dragons, the fifth installment in George R.R. Martin's brilliant epic fantasy series. (I've already commented and theorized on this brilliant series, in a reaction to the fourth book.) It reports progress in slow, measured trickles, taunting fans with its promises of some far-off release date. (September 30?)

The second-favorite honors at this point go to the article about Death Cab's upcoming album. It's safe to say that I'm... skeptical about this release. Combine Death Cab with words and phrases like "lunar" and "dissonant" and "sludgy slow metal" and I can't help but get a really unpleasant picture. Isn't Death Cab suppose to be sensitive, genuine, and, yes, emo? If we get something that ends up sounding like 1960s band music, I don't care how wonderful the art-music community thinks it is, I'm not going to enjoy it.

But the third-favorite, the one this post owes its inspiration to, details the saga of the end of the Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan's seminal work in the same epic fantasy genre that Martin has become the current master of. The Wheel of Time used to be really, really good. It was, up until the third book. I've said before that edit a few details of the end of The Dragon Reborn (and perhaps beef up the already-exciting climax of The Great Hunt a bit) and you have the best fantasy trilogy ever written, solidly beating even Lord of the Rings. But Jordan didn't stop there.

The series continued to be excellent through the sixth, perhaps seventh, book. By that time, though, Jordan was in over his head. It was clear that there wouldn't be any nice ending--it would take twelve, maybe thirteen books before this could wrap itself up. That would be just fine, provided that the second half of the series was any good. That provision didn't necessarily carry through.

By book ten, the series was so bogged down in itself that we got things like pages upon pages dedicated to buying fabric. Really, Robert Jordan? (If you're into this sort of thing, look up the Wikipedia plot summary for Crossroads of Twilight, book number 10. It's literally a few paragraphs long.) But I was willing to stick with it, along with probably thousands upon thousands of other fans. I've been at this since 2000 (and some, the ones who have been with it since the very beginning, have been at this since 1990), and damned if I'm going to let crappy books 7-11 get in the way of knowing how all this business eventually resolves.

Then Mr. Jordan got amyloidosis.

I have a tough time bashing Jordan's series, given that the man has since passed away. One of his final resolves with respect to the monster of a series that he created was that the series absolutely would end with book number 12. No more stretching things out, no more books-long political intrigue, no more "signs that really, the last battle is totally upon us this time!" Instead, we were promised answers and resolutions and nice things like that that generally go along with ending a series.

Is all that in jeopardy now that that series no longer has an author? Happily, no. For as my third-favorite Wikipedia article reports, one Brandon Sanderson has been chosen by Tor Books (The Wheel of Time's publisher) to finish the series. He's going to use Jordan's notes, dispatches from Jordan's communications with his wife, and his own fantasy author's intuition to craft A Memory of Light into a coherent novel that's supposed to wrap up two decades.

Mr. Sanderson's first order of business is to re-read the first eleven books. Sounds like a fine idea. But it's making we wary, or at least his blog-posted reactions to the books are making me wary. I would assert that in his position as quasi-ghostwriter, Sanderson's primary responsibility is to be true to what Jordan would have wanted. Maintain his plot, his characterizations, and also his style. Sanderson's research appears to be pointing him in this direction. But his second responsibility is impartiality. He ought to be evaluating the first eleven books objectively, seeing what devices and settings worked, and what didn't. Taking Jordan's mistakes and triumphs in the same breath, and synthesizing them all into a book that reflects all of it.

Instead, Sanderson comes across as nothing more than a Jordan apologist at best and a sycophant at worst. Where a disappointed fan would say "Book 8 was bad because..." an unbiased critic would say "Book 8 was paced differently from the rest of the series, which literarily would have worked better if..." Mr. Sanderson, on the other hand, makes comments like "Well, I really don't think book 8 was bad at all! Here, you see Jordan's masterful handling of..."

As a caveat, I haven't read any of Sanderson's other books. Maybe I should. Maybe I will this summer, when I have little else to do. But from an author who doesn't realize that there were problems with books 7-11, I'm not sure whether or not to be excited by book 12.

Currently listening: "Fortune plango vulnera" from Carmina Burana

1 comment:

Samantha said...

Speaking of ghost writing....