Steven Erikson vs. R. Scott Bakker

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Aaron says:

    I picked up The Prince of Nothing on the strength of the Martin comparisons, but I have to say I found it pretty hard going. I agree that all the characters are unlikeable, but I also found the prose to be straining too much towards some sort of faux literary style that seemed forced. I only got about a quarter of the way into before I put it back down. I might pick it up again and see if I can power through it, but so far I haven’t been very impressed with it.

    In all fairness, I haven’t found a whole lot of epic fantasy that I’ve really enjoyed – Tolkein, Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Pakisnarrion, Martin, Rothfuss, Steven Brust and of course Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which for my money is the bset fantasy novel written in a long, long time. If that book would have just gone on forever, I think I would have been totally happy with that.

    I really like fantasy, and epic fantasy especially, but the older I get the harder a time I’m having dealing with the wooden characters, the same retreaded settings and the awful righting. Any one of those things I’d be okay with, but so much fantasy literature combines all three. I tried picking up some Terry Brooks a while back, and while I loved it when I was in high school, man. Not so much any more.

    I tried Jim Butcher and found much the same thing: sub-sub-Chandler prose with ridiculous and reductive characters. At least the setting was somewhat unusual, although Gaimen obviously does the urban fantasy thing way better than Butcher.

    Anyways, I’ll give Erikson a try some time. I’m currently reading King’s Under the Dome and being pretty blown away by it. I want to support my local fantasy novelist, but I’m finding it tough.Report

  2. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which for my money is the bset fantasy novel written in a long, long time. If that book would have just gone on forever, I think I would have been totally happy with that.

    That sounds just about right to me….Report

  3. Avatar Zeke says:

    I’m sure folks will disagree, but I think that you’re in for a treat in book 3 if you like a perhaps too-healthy dose of tragedy in a story. My favorite thus far is book 5, where Erikson switches continents (again!) and develops a nearly-independent storyline that he then ties back into the previous books in 6 and 7. Plus, you start getting pointed but surprisingly interesting social commentary and political allegory. Oh, and of course you meet Karsa in book 4, which would justify the whole novel if nothing else in it was of value.Report

  4. Avatar North says:

    Is this another series that is in the process of being written? Because I can’t take any more of that. I picked up Game of Thrones on whim shortly after it first came out and Martin has been stomping on my heart ever since. The fans should pool their money and hire a man to stand begind him and whip him. Write damnit man write!! *crack!*

    As an aside, have you ever read Weaveworld by Clive Barker? It’s standalone and somewhat wordy but I’ve always found it enrapturing.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to North says:

      North – the series is being written but it’s like ten books long or something already. Really long, and being written at a hefty clip. Not at all like Martin.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        No dice E.D. No dice at all. I’m a horrific shredder of books. If I like them the pages start hurtling and I plow through a tome every day or two. A ten book deficit melts away like snow in the spring rain. I started the Wheel of Time a couple years before the second to last book was issued and ran smack dab into the back of the artist. And then the man went and died on me! I swore in blood after Clash of Kings; No more unfinished book series!!!

        And I commend Weaveworld to you. It has a whimsy I think you might enjoy, though I dare say the pace is slow.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to North says:

      Oh – and I haven’t read Weaveworld. Will add it to the list.Report

  5. Avatar Andy L. says:

    I picked up the Bakker book at the library but I couldn’t really get into it for some reason or another. I put it down and then it had to be returned, lest I pay a fine! I’m going to give it another chance based on your comments, although I’m not terribly looking forward to characters that I will — really — hate.

    As for Erikson, I picked up Gardens of the Moon about 5 years ago when it was published in the U.S. I ordered the next couple in from amazon.com.uk and I even went over to Windsor, Ontario (I live in the Detroit area) to buy books 6 and 7 I think. (For some reason I can’t recall, Erikson (a Canadian I think) couldn’t get published in the U.S. at first and it was only after his U.K. books took off that he got a crack at the U.S. market.)

    I really like the Malazan books. I’m waiting for book 9 to be published in the U.S. The first book is easily the worst of the bunch (maybe that’s why it wasn’t published), but I think it is because it was written as a stand-alone novel with no aspiration for writing and publishing the rest of the story. Your mention of the magic system (the Warrens and warrens) reminded me of one of the things I liked but found . . . perplexing . . . was that Erikson’s style is to reveal only incrementally the larger mythology and mechanics for the world/reality. The reader is constantly left trying to piece together who’s who and what’s what. Sometimes it is frustrating, but I think that it one of the things that kept be thirsting for more. Then, throw in a great story like the Chain of Dogs in Deadhouse Gates, and you’ve got a great book.

    I also seem to recall that Erikson’s Malazan world came to being as a part of an old tabletop RPG that he and his friends used to play. The world was dreamed up over many years and then an equal number of years to get it on paper and in print.Report

  6. Avatar Ian M. says:

    E.D. Kain has written a post about fantasy and thus by Tennessee law sporadic commenter Ian M. must recommend “The Blade Itself” book 1 of “The First Law” series by Joe Abercrombie and “Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch. For the sole purpose of adding rhetorical strength to Ian M.’s recommendation Ian M. switches to third person voice and name drops that Ian M. worked in the science fiction/fantasy section at Powell’s Books in Portland, OR and is generally thought (by an entirely objective scale so labyrinthine the makers went mad in the devising) to have kick ass taste in fantasy. Having fulfilled TN state law and an inexplicable desire to write in third person as if I were Ricky Henderson or something, I now give it a rest.Report

  7. Avatar Zach says:

    “It gets hard to take. I think Bakker wants us to believe that this is just the ugly truth – that humans are just selfish, manipulative and despicable at their core. Whether or not he’s right, it makes for some agonizing reading after a while, no matter how fascinating his world and the history of that world may be, or how lush and dark his prose.”

    I certainly agree that Bakker’s novels are agonizing to read, but I disagree on characterization. I think the books make an excellent case for how fundamentally belief can warp peoples’ perceptions, how readily we abandon doubt for the fanaticism of certainty. I think that if we were to go back to the real-world parallel – the Crusades – we’d see the same intransigence. The Men of the Tusk cannot conceive of existence without the Thousand Temples – until someone is able to manipulate them otherwise. But then they simply swap one unquestioning belief for another one. Bakker’s world is not one I would like to live in, but I do think it’s close to the one the vast majority of people have. So I put it down and am grateful I live now and here.

    As for Erikson – one book left in a series I’ve been with since the beginning. I love the series, even as it occasionally creaks (The Bonehunters and Toll the Hounds) and repeats itself (Toll the Hounds). Erikson’s world has all the messy layers of ours; it’s history piled on top of history.

    I should also note – Erikson came up the world with Ian C. Esslemont as a role-playing setting. Esslemont has since released two books in his own sub-series that overlap with events in the Book of the Fallen, and I regard them as essential to the arc as Erikson’s.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Zach says:

      Zach –

      I agree. In that respect, Bakker does an excellent job. However, I would simply say that within the stories there still could have been a handful of characters with whom we could sympathize or enjoy reading about a tiny bit more.Report

      • Avatar Zach in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Well, it’s perspective then. I sympathize with all the characters, because they’re bound to systems of thought they can’t understand, and can’t ever seem to extricate themselves from. And it is fun watching the one skeptic, the one man who encourages doubt – Drusas Achamian – struggle against both the weight of his own fanaticism and the unquestioning savagery of his fellows. The skeptical millenarian is quite the sight.Report

  8. Avatar Glenn Krueger says:

    I’ve read the entire Malazan series and am waiting for the last book. By far the best Fantasy ever written. I’ve also read the entire R. Scott Bakker series and am waiting on the next book after “The Darkness….”. Not as good but entertaining. I’ve also read the RR Martin series (waiting on the final book) Get off your Arse George and stop putting your name on anything that will make you money and finish!Report

  9. Avatar Tom T says:

    So much of the fantasy I’ve tried to read has been sheer drivel, until I picked up Bakker. I find that his books are an easier read than Erikson’s, with the portrayal of the march with Kellhus rising in power very well written and evocative. Erikson has a different appeal, in that you have to really work to understand what’s going on, but I like it. He doesn’t baby the reader at all, and expects them to follow. The first book of his I was totally lost, but by the second I understood what he’s going on about. Take Kruppe for example. A typical book would go to great lengths to explain to the reader about Kruppe, but not Erikson. His characters unfold over the course of the story, and you have to invest time to get to know them, which is neat, and a rare treat.

    And I can’t spell either author’s name right from memory. Ever.Report

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