Monday, July 25, 2011

Dropping a series.

I'm sure we have all done it. You get to the point where you just cannot take the author's work anymore. Or, you simply cannot take the author any more. You have two choices basically when this happens, you can skim, flip forward, hope things get better, get back on track, get back to what you originally saw in the work to begin with.

Or you can simply drop the series. Abandoned halfway or sometimes even less. It's a very extreme measure, but I've found recently I've been doing it more and more.

Last year, I only abandoned one book without finishing it. Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself. I managed to soldier through Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth, but not without skimming huge chunks of the last four books. By the time I got to book 8 of that, I was forcing myself to read 50 pages a day of them. I had it marked on the calender when I'd finally finish that last page of Confessor. But I only abandoned one book.

This year I've already abandoned one book, without finishing it, David Foster Wallace's The Infinite Jest. Like Gravities Rainbow, better men than me have abandoned that. Worse, I've abandoned two series. Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin series, and Kate Elliot's Crown of Stars series. Both for the same reason. To much talk Wheeljack, Not enough action.

After the rollicking start that O'Brian's series had, and its eventual and meteoric pickup of steam leading up to the war of 1812 I read each volume faster than the last. Once the war was joined however, the author slammed on the brakes. They became distended plays dealing chiefly with manners. It suddenly took an entire book to say what he previously said in a chapter. He also began to subtly change the characters alignment. Maturin went from being Chaotic good, to lawful Evil. Aubrey went from Knight in shining armour to indifferent and apathetic. They quit being characters I liked. But they are living still, and its possible that some where buried in the depths of books 11-20 that their previous selves are waiting to be re-discovered by me. That may or may not happen. I rarely give a series a second chance.

Kate Elliot's series on the other hand, I never liked. I read it hoping for another series similar to Tad Williams. Her name is frequently mentioned as being "The Other author inspired by Tad Williams" The chief one being George R.R. Martin. The problem is, nothing ever happens in Kate Elliot's books. Originally intended to be a trilogy, the Crown of Stars grew to encompass 7 volumes. It's a shame too. It probably would have been a fantastic trilogy. Instead she bogs it down with countless diversions into the social standings of various underclasses in her pseudo invented world. I say Pseudo, because all she really seems to have done is replaced any instance of a Male name in history with a Feminine name. Constantine becomes Constance, Alexander becomes Alexandria, on and on, ad nauseum. I know too much about history, and that slap dash approach just kept forcing me out of the novels. The turgid prose, and constant discussions on arranged marriage and political machinations did it better though. In the first 700 page book, they treat two major battles with less than a chapter a piece. The main characters daily chores to her master, take up nearly 10 times as much page space. In other words, the books are boring.

In the past, the one series that I've abandoned that seems to irk the most Fantasy fans, is George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. I likely could have abandoned dozen's of other series, even the Ur-Fantasy The Lord of the Rings, and escaped without so much as the batting of an eyelash. Not Martin however. I've apparently become a heretic because of my refusal to acknowledge his supposed greatness. I tried though. I read the first one, shortly following the release of the fourth volume. Numerous people convinced me I needed to read this series desperately. I hesitated, I avoid long series that aren't finished. Thats the result of the interminable waiting for the later Wheel of Time volumes. I foolishly bought all four hardcovers for nearly full cover price, sight un seen. I nearly quit reading the first book, following Bran getting pushed out the window.

You see, had the series been a typical Fantasy series. Bran would have been the main character. The entire series would have followed him. He would have been the Frodo or Rand Al' Thor or Richard Rahl or Paul Atredies of the song of ice and fire. Martin chose not to do that. It made me angry. But with a lot of encouragement I stuck to it. By the time I finished the volume, I realized I should have gone with my gut and quit it hundreds of pages earlier. I vowed not to read any more of the series until I knew the ending. Any author who kills his main character (Surely, if not Bran then Ned must be?!) cannot be trusted.

Thats what I typically want from an author. I don't want challenge. I want sameness. I want to be able to read each and every volume knowing the main character will survive largely unscathed. Life is uncertain, and certainty is a fantasy only enjoyed by the wealthy. I can catch glimpses of it in novels, or so I had become accustomed to through a long diet of what would typically be termed "Mediocre" fantasy.

This decision tends to be met with dismissal, pleading, anger, or confusion. They just cannot understand why I wouldn't want to read such fantastic books. Maybe they are. I'll likely never find out. Since its highly unlikely that Martin will be able to end his series on a note with which I don't object.

A Specific and recent example follows:
Anonymous said...

Rex, I believe I speak for the many fans of the book, when I say that you made a really, truly, tragic, and stupid decision. I really urge you to pick the book back up- the whole series is excellent.

To which I responded:
I already feel as if I wasted my time on the first book. What's tragic would be wasting more time getting invested in more characters that I already know Martin kills off. What was stupid, was buying into the hype and wasting 120$ buying all four hardcovers, new, because people just kept on about them.

Another Quote I just came across, From Black Gate
Martin invites us again and again to withhold trust from the things we’re told, but again and again reveals to us how much we’ve accepted without realising it. It’s a nice trick; and it surprises me that he’s consistently able to pull it off without alienating his readership. I think the secret is that he plays fair with the readers. He puts his clues out there in the descriptions he gives; he shows us, by revealing a few minor mysteries, how his riddles are constructed. And if, given that, you’re still surprised by what happens — it’s hardly his fault, is it? Words are wind.

It's most assuredly his fault. He's the author. Any problems the reader has with his work, ultimately are the fault of him who built it. Just as surely as a defective car tire is the fault of the manufacturer. I don't enjoy being toyed with. I was alienated.

Don't lose heart however, Martin is in good company. I made up my mind to jettison the Dune series when Paul walked into the desert. Beyond finishing the second half of the book, being made up of Children of Dune, I have yet to venture back to Arakkis. Martin already has my money, so what does it matter if I don't venture back to Westeros?


Brian Murphy said...

While I have not made the decision to give up on Martin, I have not yet purchased A Dance With Dragons, nor am I chomping at the bit to do so. It's a pretty clear indication that I've cooled quite a bit on the series.

The praise at Black Gate notwithstanding, the reviews are pretty mixed. Last I checked it was 3 out of 5 stars on Amazon, with many comparisons to A Feast for Crows (which I thought was thoroughly mediocre).

That said, I'm sure I'll read it at some point.

Anonymous said...

Remember how some non-readers reacted to Episode 9's finale? This series is full of such moments (not necessarily involving deaths). I fear that the ending, when and if comes out, might make the reader feel like this was a "Shoot The Shaggy Dog" story.

Lagomorph Rex said...

I don't want to come across as being overly harsh on Martin. Or any of these authors for that matter.

It's ultimately Martin's story, and he's more or less free to do with it what he wants.

But for me, I have to know who the main character is in order to enjoy a book. I don't mind the characters growing as characters, but I don't like abrupt 180's either. If Tyrion or Daenarys or Jon(Unlikely considering what I know about #5) were meant to be the main character.. I wish he had given me some indication. Then I wouldn't have gotten so attached to the Starks.

It left me feeling the victim of a bait and switch. But his writing, and especially his descriptions of food and architecture and landscapes I found wonderful. But if thats what I am looking for.. I can go re-read some Redwall books.