Tuesday, January 16, 2007

This wouldn't happen if I stuck to biographies...

Anybody who managed to stay awake in high school English should remember that Dickens got paid by the word. Ah, we clever sophomores would say to ourselves, that might explain why there's so many of the damn things in his books. And we would be right.

It occurs to me as I slog through book eleven of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series that authors of popular fantasy series get paid by the book. That might explain why there's so many of the damn things in a series.

Especially in a series like Jordan's which establishes in the first book that the hero is moving toward a Culminating Event in which Wrong will be righted and Right shall prevail. Or whatever. But you sit back and say, "Okee-doke, we just have to get ol' Rand to Tarmon Gaidon [say it out loud, it sounds like 'Armageddon.' Betcha never caught that!] and all will be well and I can go re-read Harry Potter like I really want to."

But now, as the cast mounts into the hundreds, and the plots of each book inch imperceptibly toward the final goal while throwing up endless meaningless obstacles before the intrepid hero, I'm beginning to wonder if, somewhere around book seven, Jordan lost the love.

And can I take a moment here to marvel at the fact that every time a character (of which, I may have mentioned there are hundreds, and not one of them bestowed with a pronounceable name) enters a scene or changes clothes, Jordan assiduously describes the outfit. And every time a character changes mood, Jordan (or, I suspect, his army of sub-authors) not only describes the mood, but explains how the focal character knows that this is the character's mood.

It's positively distracting. Not that there's much to be distracted from. I'm on page 525 of this thing (with 312 pages to go) and the only significant events are three character movements and somebody getting married (and then moving). Tiny clues are added to intrigues, but, since it's been over a year since I read the last book (and swore never to invest in another Jordan hardcover again) I can't keep straight what the intrigues were pointing to or which hundredth character with which ungodly name was involved. I can't even remember which characters have revealed themselves as bad guys -- and I'm not about to re-read the other ten books to get it straight.

And the evil! What's wrong with developing a little believable evil? A little evil with motive? The big bad guys are so viciously nasty there is no reason in the world why anyone in their right mind would want to hang with them. They have nothing to offer people but immortality in a universe of utter nastiness.

To maintain and perpetuate the obstacles to resolution, Jordan has been obligated to develop some of the most stubborn, self-involved protagonist characters in the history of fiction. If they were one whit less pigheaded, they might actually solve the little mysteries that plague them or realize that they're running around with enemy empresses or whatever. But that would end the series about five books ago, and we can't be having that, now can we? Still, doesn't make them the most sympathetic folks to root for.

And the reason I won't buy another hardcover is: Tor (God bless 'em) is in such a hurry to make a gazillion dollars off the next installment that the copy editing is appalling and possibly even more distracting than the red-slashed silks with brocaded panels or what the fuck ever.

I will say that at least Wheel of Time is not as godawful as the degeneration of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. In the last bricklike tome I shoveled through in that series nothing at all happened -- so not kidding! Not a damn thing until, like the last page, and if that one thing hadn't'of happened, I would have been morally compelled to set the book on fire.

The trick, it seems, is to limit yourself from the beginning (the Harry Potter series, or the highly overlooked and underrated trilogy Deed of Paksenarrion, by Elizabeth Moon) or to be a little more realistic about who the good and bad guys are (everybody, a little bit) like in George R.R. Martin's phenomenal Song of Ice and Fire series so that, even though there's a Culminating Event somewhere up ahead, you're far more interested in what everybody's up to right now, becuase frankly they're just interesting people to whom interesting things keep happening.

1 comment:

hrtsmom said...

Thanks for reminding me why I never started reading Robert Jordan. Several people have told me over the years that I should, but after seeing the sheer number of books he's cranked out, I decided I was better off not. OTOH, if you like good fantasy series fiction, you should (shameless plug alert!) really check out my books. I have links on my blog, and I can almost guarantee that if you read the first one, you would want to read the rest of them too. (end shameless plug)