Thursday, 1 April 2010

Malazan Burn Out?

For my money, Steven Erikson is writing the best fantasy series out there at the moment. Why is it then that I’m finding it more and more of a chore to read his books…?

I’ve had the last couple of weeks off work and I thought I’d use the time to finally crack on and finish ‘Dust of Dreams’ (you know, the important stuff…!), a book that I’ve been trying to get into since the hardback came out last year. Every time I tried to read it I never got much further than page one hundred. This time, I got to around page two hundred before I found myself dipping into some of the other books that you’ve seen featured on the blog these last few days.

Now I could say in my defence that I’ve been moving house, I’ve been in and out of hospital, I’ve been unpacking loads of boxes in the new house, getting stuff ready for the baby etc. That would be ok if I hadn’t had exactly the same problem last time round with ‘Toll the Hounds’, another Malazan book that took me a year’s worth of bite sized chunks of reading before I finished it. If that wasn’t bad enough, I find myself with no urge to read Esslemont’s ‘Return of the Crimson Guard’ at all. But I still think that the ‘Malazan’ series is the best fantasy series on the shelves at the moment.

So what’s going on?

Is it that I’m slowly travelling through a world where every character internally philosophises in the same dry tone? Has Erikson succeeded in portraying the utter pointlessness of war to the extent where I can’t see the point in going any further? Everyone must die sometimes… Is it the fact that Stonny’s son can’t possibly be as old as he is in ‘Toll the Hounds’, can he? Or is it the fact that various Malazan armies (or their allies) have been marching hither and yon for almost ten books now and I find myself wondering if the climax could have maybe come a couple of books ago…?

It’s a mixture of all of them to be honest but it’s the last reason that’s the killer for me. Erikson could pull something out of his hat in the next book that makes the ‘Book of the Fallen’ a series that couldn’t be anything less than ten books but, right now, I feel that things are starting to drag a bit and that’s what’s stopping me continuing.

I’m looking forward to being proved wrong here as, like I said, I think the ‘Malazan’ books are the best fantasy series on the bookshelves; I can’t help feeling a little tired of it all though…
How about you? Are you finding the home straight to be more of a slog than a sprint? Or have you finished ‘Dust of Dreams’ and know something that I don’t? Like I said, I’m looking forward to being proved wrong so all comments are more than welcome!


Dadawa said...

Now that you mention it, I can see why you would feel that way. I have had one of his books on my shelf for several years, and always mean to pick it up, but get distracted by something else. When I do finish his books I have greatly enjoyed them, but there is something about them that scare me a little I guess and makes me slightly reluctant to dive right in.

Ryan said...

While I have loved this series, (6 books in so far), the whole thing has been a slog for me. It is a labor of love. There is always so much to absorb in each book, and so many characters to keep track of, and then the multitude of places, races, warrens, gods, ascendants, and so forth, that the books can be a real challenge for me. Plus each book is SO thick, I just know that it'll take me close to a month to read the thing, and that can be daunting as well. I always feel rewarded for my effort at the end though, and I expect to see this massive series through to the end. I hope you do too.

James said...

I just took a break from Dust of Dreams halfway through and did the same with Toll the Hounds last year, but there is a method to my madness. For the most part, I do not read tomes anymore. I have taken a step away from epic fantasy and that step puts me right in the midst of books that are rarely longer than four hundred pages (and often much shorter than that, actually). Attempting to read an 800+ page book these days, even books from authors I enjoy, is tedious. So I take a break and I have to take one because otherwise it does turn into a slog and that is the last thing I want when I have some ninety unread books staring down at me from The Stack.

Well, that is one part of it at least. I am a Malazan fanboy and all, but even I can admit that Toll the Hounds, while a great read, had terribly slow pacing that does not make it the most readable of books. Unfortunately, Dust of Dreams has this same issue, only I feel it is the slowest paced of the lot.

As for ICE and Return of the Crimson Guard... well, I was not at all impressed by Night of Knives and if there is anything putting me off reading the book, it is that.

Am I the only one who has no issue at all with the timeline problems?

Droidprogrammer said...

Don't feel so bad, My copy has been on my shelf for 2 months. The crimson guard had the exact opposite problem where things moved too fast, and came to a conclusion that I, for one did not enjoy. I am a huge fan of Erickson, I love his characters, and they thought of the best magic system ever, but the lack of a climatic ending, so far, leaves me a bit cold.

Joe Sherry said...

Oh, I've been dragging on Malazan for the last several volumes now (starting with Midnight Tides). There have been flashes of goodness, occasionally greatness in each, but by and's exhausting to think about cracking open another.

But then, I don't think Malazan is one of the best things on the market right now.

Khaled said...

So... I agree that Malazan is awesome. Probably the series that evokes the most out of my imagination. The characters are nearly all legends, but in different ways.

I had my first 2 (and only 2) burnout experiences with 'The Bonehunters'. Couldn't make it past page 120 or so on either time. But the third time was a charm, and I finished it pretty quickly. Ended up LOVING it.

Ryan is right -- for me, the hard part about this series is that I really have to be engaging the text while I'm reading it. Otherwise, I miss lots of things, and then get confused, and that's no fun.

It's actually one of the things I like about this series, but after several books I've learned my lesson. Don't start until I'm 'ready' for the mental work. I too have Book 9 on the shelf -- just waiting for 10 to come out so I can read them straight.

Angelo said...

Maybe the series raen't that great? Come on! You say the series are dragging on, are a chore to read, etc... And still call it the best fantasy series?!

Just because it's complex, doesn't mean it has quality or it is a quality piece of literature.

Goran said...

For me climax was at the end of Memories of Ice, after that nothing really measures up to the Chain of Dogs. I've read later books and enjoyed them,until Bonehunters when I simply started skimming for parts related to Kruppe, Icarium or Tehol.
Currently I am preparing mentally for opening Dust of Dreams :)

suneokun said...

Graeme ... couldn't agree more. While I've breezed through everything he's written up until now ... 'Dust' has dragged badly. I'm finding it starting to pick up after page 350 ... so don't give up hope!

Ericson admits that he's trying to 'tie everything together' and his jumping from thread to thread (which works in other fiction ... expecially film) does the opposite of add tension and actually confuses the reader to buggery?!?

As for the 'children' walking the desert ... who cares anymore? And the six other random groupd of randoms ... eh? I really like Ericson's 'Fulcrum' plot point (IE that heroes will always coalesce into a crisis) ... but this crisis better have a damn good fulfillment ... becuase I'm seriously running out of juice.

The only bright spot ...? Bugg Tehol and their innane conversations ... I could read those forever.

We know where he's going ... I just wish he'd get there!

Adam Whitehead said...

As I've said elsewhere, I think Erikson has to some degree fallen in love with his own philosophising, which he handles considerably less elegantly and concisely than Bakker, and not really picking up that it was more the sheer scope of the world, the interesting races, the well-depicted battles and the dramatic plot twists that really interested a lot of people in the series in the first few books. A particular problem is that he seems to have focused on the 'tragedy' elements of the work, since the Chain of Dogs and Itkovian's storyline worked so well in Books 2 and 3, and now puts some kind of tragic storyline in every book, completely robbing it of any power it would have had if used more sparingly. I didn't really give a toss at all about the Snake in DoD because it was clear it was just a redux of the Chain of Dogs, and won't be surprised if it ends the same way in Book 10.

As for the best series around, I don't think so. Around the time of DHG and MoI, maybe, but since then I think Erikson has been leapfrogged by authors who are doing elements of what he is attempting with MALAZAN more concisely and with more flair, particularly Bakker (the philosophising), Abraham (the emotionally intense tragedy) and Abercrombie (the unusual structure - when applied to the trilogy versus the stand-alones - and the whole gritty band of warriors thing).

I think this is why there is frustration with Erikson and in the case of some particularly embittered ex-fans, surprising amounts of anger, because MALAZAN did at one time have the potential to become the greatest fantasy series ever written, and has fallen way short of its potential.

All of that said, I still count myself as a fan and am waiting for THE CRIPPLED GOD with interest, but there's at least seven epic fantasy authors whose next works I am considerably more interested in (those being Martin, Lynch, Jordan/Sanderson, Abercrombie, Rothfuss, Kearney and Abraham).

Graeme Flory said...

I think what I meant to say in terms of 'best series on the shelves' is that Erikson's work has grabbed me like none other and like Adam said, it was the sheer scope of his backdrop that did it for me. It still does to an extent but things are starting to crawl now and that's the largest obstacle to my continued reading. I can see myself finishing off the main series (eventually)but Erikson is going to have to up his game considerably if I'm to give the prequel books a go.

Angelo - Joe and Adam are pretty much bang on the money when they say that there are still flashes of greatness that make this a series worth sticking with. For me, these moments remind me of what Erikson can do when he's on top of his game and make it a favourite series of mine - despite the crawl to the finish line.

Of the authors that Adam mentions, they're all more than worthy but I'd personally like to see more from some of them (Lynch, Rothfuss and Abercrombie) before I make any comparisons with Erikson. I'm not saying that they've all got to turn out nine or ten books and get parity in terms of output; I just want to see more of what they're capable of. I'm flagging on the WOT series for pretty much the same reason as the Malazan books and haven't read the latest one yet. I've only read Kearney's 'The Ten Thousand' and want to read more of his work before making up my mind there. As far as Martin goes... I wasn't keen on 'Feast' at all but I think there's a lot of potential for 'Dance' to be excellent once it is finished. Lets wait and see.

Salt-Man Z said...

I'm currently reading DoD right now (about 2/3 of the way through) and it's alternating awesomeness and tedium. I find myself ripping through the pages when it's the Malazans or ascendants or Tehol/Bugg on stage, but setting it aside when the action shifts to the Khundryl, the Barghast, or the random eastern Lether kingdoms.

However, I do have to say that I started chapter 16 last night, and after 10.5 books and almost 10,000 pages, those first 10 pages might just be the most informative and important chunk of the series so far. It looks like Erikson just might be about to tie EVERYTHING up nicely, and now I'm super-psyched for TCG.

Salt-Man Z said...

Oh, and as for RotCG, Esslemont might be just what the doctor ordered if you're tired of SE's philosophizing.

Anonymous said...

Finally, it's up to me, a German reader an Malazan fan, to disagree.

I never had any problem to read one book without pause even the last ones. Most of the Malazan books are two-third preparation and one-third extreme climax. I really read much fantasy/sci-fi but what Erikson has created has no competitor.
All mentioned authors are special in their own way. Martin is the one with the greatest reputation. ASoIaF is without doubt the best fantasy series when it comes to knights and intrigues in a medieval scenario. But Lynch, Abercrombie .. no, they are just fun, that's all. Their stories are easy listening/reading. The reader doesn't have to use his brain.

This recalls me of Gene Wolfe. The popularity of his "Book of the New Sun" was never really good even if it is without doubt one of the most intelligent and well written series of all time. Too intelligent, too much to think about, the writer a liar, not worth to be trusted. In some way the same happens to Erikson if I read these oppinions.

TMBotF is not only the most complex epic fantasy ever written, it is just written by a magician and of course scientist who knows about what he is telling us. I doubt there are many others who would be capable to do that. His style is different, yes, and that's also what makes it special.

Erikson gripped me with every part of his story, he made me to discover the secret goals of almost every character and what part of the game they have been, are and will be.
Every character who seems to be of importance gets his chapters, developes, shows me more of his inner self, so that I as the reader know his motivations and intentions even if some are still kept secret.

There is no way, absolutely no way, to show the final climax in book 5 or 6, even not 7 and 8. Every single book has it's relevance. And of course the protagonists move/are moved in position, just as every author does.

I'm reading R. Scott Bakker's "Prince of Nothing" at the moment. I like it but I dislike that he mentions something as a possibility a page before and turning the page I see: it happened. How? Why so fast?
Erikson is better in that.

I've not yet read "Dust of Dreams", but I see it as "The Crippled God, Part 1". I don't need 1000 solutions in DoD if the most important ones are solved in the 10th tome. And also I doubt that everything will be solved at all. It is part of a big historical era but there was a time before an there will be a time after it. I think to remember Erikson mentioning exactly that.

The only thing I have to admit is that book 7 and 8 might have not this maximum climax. But some even dislike book 5, in my eyes the most important story in the series.
My mouth gaped wide open for hours while reading the huge endings and interferences of book 2-6. Now we expect almost every time this greatness but it seems to go more into detail, more smaller fates are described and finished. As everyone expects from Martin's "ADwD" to be a great read I expect "TCG" to be the most epic ending ever.

So, finally enough praising :)

Coully said...

I love all the Erikson books. He doesn't give you the answers on a plate. He isn't scared of taking time to paint on the broadest canvass possible. I read Dust of Dreams pretty much in a day like every other one in the series. World building on an epic scale means sometimes you have to gather in the strands (look at Robert Jordan - same scope but much more patronising).

Can't wait for the finale!

Errant Knave said...

As someone just starting Malazan, I don't have an opinion specific to this series. But judging from other epic fantasy series, I wonder if Erikson knows how to end the story. Starting a tale like this and writing consistently good stuff is very difficult, but there's something to be said for an author who can wrap things up and walk away from the story. Perhaps Erikson hasn't found a satisfying conclusion yet. Perhaps he doesn't know the art of the close.

Anonymous said...

I guess that's not correct. Erikson knows how to "finish" - he proved in almost every single book and therefore he will DELIVER :)

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

I think I take a break in the middle of each book. Not that I don't love them, it's more that they're so complicated and mysterious that I need something straight-forward for a little while.

Mike said...

I can without a doubt say that I love his books. Each of the books do slow down at one point or another, but for me that is just a time that I can read and absorb all the information I have been given. Each time one of the characters begins an inner monologue I follow right along with my own thoughts.

It's rare I've managed to find books that cater to my particular thought process or reading style, and can definitely see how others would find it a slog though. He does tend to give you more information than is required and certain events do seem to take a good deal longer than necessary. The upside to this is that it does build a very detailed world, one that could easily be believed was real.

Anupam said...

yeah...i purchased a copy and havent opened it till now...maybe the series has dragged on a bit...

and biggest headache is the depth/complexity of each book...its difficult to just pick up the latest after 6 months of reading the last one cause i find i tend to have forgotton things...

Anonymous said...

I love the series but I am concerned that SE is a victim of Robert-Jordanitis as each book gets progessively slower paced with less happening that advances the plot. Really the events of DoD could have been covered in half the volume, and the addition of new seemingly random characters with nothing to add to the main story thread is really frustrating. I made it through but this one definitely dragged in the middle of the book and seemed very flabby, compared to some of the previous volumes that I have been happy to reread several times over.

Lilith said...

I had DoD on my shelf for a year. I would pick it up, read 200 pages or so then put it down again. This happened three time before I was finally able to finish it. I can't make a judgement now but I am re-reading all 10 books plus ICE's series to get a better feel of the whole.