Enough is enough, part one: When the legend dies, stop printing the legend

(Title refers to a classic line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in case you were wondering).
Steven Erikson’s Toll the Hounds isn’t the best in his Malazan series. It has lots of rather annoying authorial observations and several dull bits, and it doesn’t seem to advance the overall arc very much, just a lot of fighting, scheming, traveling and talk.
That being said, it didn’t sour me on the series. Partly, I think, because the dull bits are broken up and scattered so there’s never a long boring stretch (in contrast to the first Wheel of Time book or Name of the Wind where the boring bits were in one massive clump). And there are some spectacular bits—how often do you see an apocalyptic battle inside a soul-stealing sword?
But the fact I’m looking forward to reading #9 and #10 (though if the report Erikson’s expanding to 22 voumes is correct, I think I’ll stop there) got me thinking about other series I’ve given up on, and why. The biggest reason, I think, is that the author decides to “explore” their world and forgets about the plot.
Take Laurel Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, for example. I loved the series when it started, but as Anita became more enmeshed in the monster side of things, the series became more and more talky. Lycanthrope pack structure. Lycanthrope politics. Vampire politics. And not in an interesting way, either (I freely admit that as the series is still going strong as far as I know, presumably lots of Hamilton fans do find it interesting). In the last book I tried—Narcissus in Chains, I think, but I’m not sure—Hamilton devoted a huge amount of space to a lengthly political debate between Anita and her vampire allies and the bad vampires. And the topic? IIRC, nothing but the terms for the big upcoming vampire meeting (to make sure they were favorable to the good guys).
There’s nothing wrong with political gaming in a fantasy setting, but one of the first things they tell government reporters (I did the city government thing for 10 years) is that most people don’t care about the political maneuverings or procedures, they want to know what’s actually happening and how it affects them. In Hamilton, nothing happens but the maneuvers are covered in excruciating detail.
Gods of Riverworld is another example: After wrapping up the Riverworld series in the previous book, Philip José Farmer decided to squeeze one more book out. What resulted was exploring the implications of Riverworld technology (which allows you to resurrect the dead) and how people would use it, and that simply wasn’t enough to sustain a novel. There was no there there.
There are also novels in which the relationships between the series characters squeeze out the plot—and then there’s Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. I loved the first few books, but in Faith of the Fallen, Goodkind—a devout objectivist—decides to make the book a statement of objectivist principles. It turns out the evil empire his heroes are fighting is actually a collectivist dystopia where everyone is taught that the community is everything, the individual nothing. Protagonist Richard Rahl explores this in excruciating detail before showing them the individual is all and serving other people is batshit (which is a rather odd philosophy for a guy who’s spent five books putting his life on the line for others).
Not only was this dull, but even for a polemic, it was bad: Why show the empire as something vaguely resembling Soviet collectivism rather than anything contemporary America could identify with? Or is it that Goodkind genuinely believes modern America is a collectivist dystopia and that his story portrays it accurately (much the same way some Christians believe secular society is a depraved orgy where people have no inhibitions on having sex with goats).
Even with a series I love, this kind of thing is guaranteed to kill my interest.
Part two of this post will follow later today.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Enough is enough, part one: When the legend dies, stop printing the legend

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