Enter into Neth Space and you will find thoughts and reviews of books and other media that fit the general definition of speculative fiction. This includes the various genres and sub-genres of fantasy, science fiction, epic fantasy, high fantasy, hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi, new weird, magical realism, cyberpunk, urban fantasy, slipstream, horror, alternative history, SF noir, etc. Thoughts are my own, I'm certainly not a professional, just an avid reader avoiding his day job.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Author Intent versus Fan Desires
Or why fans hate Steven Erikson’s inconsistencies
and Erikson doesn’t care
This is a
rant that has been building in me for years now. And it is a rant that I think
many readers of this blog will disagree with, perhaps quite vehemently, as I
unapologetically scream that fantasy fans are way too often rigid,
short-sighted idiots who willingly choose to ignore the point of the books they
the Malazan series there are
inconsistencies, particularly in regards to the timeline. Characters appear who
are much older than they should be, timings within the books don’t line up,
characters will think of events that haven’t happened yet, etc. Whether such
things began as intentional or not, they have persisted, and many of the Malazan fans have gritted their teeth,
pulled their hair out and screamed aloud of the problems of these issues. Some
have even stopped reading Erikson altogether due to these inconsistencies (and
Erikson’s reactions to them). Along with these inconsistencies comes further
complaint about a lot the more philosophical aspects of Erikson’s writing.
Especially, the long, rambling and sometimes evangelical way they can be
often asked about these and his response has remained consistent, though the
tone and personal wear of his response has varied. He is not bothered by them,
and in some cases things were deliberately chosen in spite of the inconstancies
with the story that has come before. There are good reasons for why he’s not
bothered, though many fans choose to ignore them do their own perspectives. First,
Erikson is an archeologist and therefore a student of history, long history. He
knows that facts are in the eye of the beholder, perspective rules and that no
history, however complete, is perfectly consistent. Nor is the world he
Erikson is not after a consistent world creation or perfectly derived lists of
characters and events. He is all about exploration of the human condition, as
well as exploitation and exposition of the fantasy genre. He is intentionally
subversive in his writing and often flat-out derisive. He will spit in the face
of the reader to make his point, and that is often his point. And the reader’s
journey is more complete for it.
But this is
lost. His continued answers in interviews are lost. Eventually, he began
inserting meta commentary of this in his writing (see my reviews of Toll the Hounds and Crack’d Pot Trail). He seems
haunted by the issue, though unmoved in his position. And he continues in Forge of Darkness (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), even doubling down. Below are a series of quotes – one from
an interview and the others from the book.
hide behind other histories, and this Kharkanas trilogy is a layer pulled back,
but even there it’s not structured as ‘this is precisely what happened back
then.’ Rather, it is a tale deliberately reshaped by the narrator, for motives
entirely his own. This detail allowed me to stay fresh in creating the tale,
without being too tightly bound to any kind of objective reality.”
Let me ask you this,
then. Does one find memory in invention? Or will you find invention in memory?
Which bows in servitude before the other? Will the measure of greatness be weighted
solely in the details? Perhaps so, if the details make up the full weft of the
world, if themes are nothing more than the composite of lists perfectly ordered
and unerringly rendered; and if I should kneel before invention, as if it were
Do I look like a man who
Is my laughter cynical?
Derisive? Do I sigh and remind myself yet again that truths are like seeds
hidden in the ground, and should you tend them who may say what wild life will
spring into view?
Should you err, the
list-makers will eat you alive.
“I am satisfied to think
of writing as a desire worth having, whereas its practical exercise is a turgid
ordeal I leave to lesser folk, since I have better things to do with the
sentient fragments of my brain.”
“Thus the argument of a
thousand useless geniuses, each one quick to venture an opinion, particularly a
negative one, since by their own negativity they can justify doing nothing but
Varandas and Haut, p.
As a reader, do the
quotes above enrage you or make you laugh? I think it’s a critical question for
those who read Erikson’s writing. Erikson writes with a purpose, a purpose
often in contrast to reader’s expectations. He’s unapologetic about his
purpose. Readers react, some leave, yet many still read. Many will call me an
apologist (or worst) in my siding with Erikson on this. Because the inconsistencies
don’t matter. They aren’t the point. Look deeper. Read deeper. Forget the lists.
Look for the point of it all.
And if you find it, let
me know. Because I’ll freely admit that I’m still looking – I’ve found much,
but the joy is that there is always more to find. And that is the point.