WWW Wednesday 5-8-2013

It’s WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

• What did you recently finish reading?

Re-reading, actually. I bought and read the hardcover when it first came out in late 2009. It’s a rare sort of book: A sequel as good as the first of the series. Which is saying something, as one of the special things about Ariel: A Book of the Change was that it would have been so easy to sell out and follow up with episodic “further adventures of…” concoctions, and yet Steve left it alone. He knew each installment would have inevitably watered down the impact of the first. (Fair disclosure: I’ve known Steve since 1985 and consider him a great buddy, but make no mistake, if I thought his work sucked, I’d say so. You should know that about me.)

After a quarter of a century Steve got inspired and did in fact come up with a sequel, but he did it right. He wisely did not pick up where Ariel left off. Elegy Beach begins a generation later — literally, its narrator being the son of the first narrator. It therefore has the breathing room to be its own story. It’s as rich as the first. The writing is different, of course. Ariel was a how-can-you-not-like-this piece of candy by a wildly talented nineteen-year-old. Elegy Beach is the elegantly-wrought product of a man who learned some things about life and about fiction-writing along the way to forty-five years old and beyond.

This isn’t to say Elegy Beach isn’t informed by Ariel. You’ll appreciate the effect of reading them both in sequence, but you can read either one without the other and walk away satisfied.

Complete as Elegy Beach was, a peripheral character called out for her own book. Avy the werewolf girl. Her tale will be Steve’s follow-up. Last year at an SF-in-SF event, I listened to Steve read from the work-in-progress. The night before, he had rehearsed the entire 8,000-word chapter like a play script. He proceeded to perform it for us from memory, fully embellished with character voices (especially in the section that retells the classic children’s tale “The Three Little Pigs” as a werewolf daddy would tell it). Only once did he need to refer back to his manuscript, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he faked that lapse in order to show that he really was sharing something that was still in the creative oven.

Inasmuch as my own memory is no longer that keen, I’m re-reading so as to remind myself of Avy’s introduction.

• What are you currently reading?

I had to finish A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Branson Sanderson.

I didn’t get to finish it. I had to finish it.

It’s a shame. I read the whole Wheel of Time series, plus the prequel novel. That’s 4,400,000 words. It surely means I’ve read more words by Jordan in my lifetime than any other single author, even if we subtract the 600,000 or so words written by Brandon Sanderson in order to complete the series. (The runner up must be Edgar Rice Burroughs, two-thirds of whose career works I devoured as a fourteen- to sixteen-year-old.) For quite some time, it’s been pretty clear the only reason I bothered to read more was to maintain the investment of being a few million words into the storyline.

I liked the series when I started it. That was when only one book had been published. At that point, it was a breath of fresh air in terms of Big Fat Fantasies. It wasn’t some tepid Tolkien dilution like the Shannara books. It wasn’t creepy and twisted like Stephen Donaldson’s debut trilogy. It wasn’t obvious and generic like Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar series. Those, frankly, were works by amateurs whose publishers tried to position them as the next big thing. While Robert Jordan’s publisher, Tom Doherty, certainly stood behind the series, he wasn’t backing something written while the author was an amateur. Robert Jordan was an established professional who had already refined his storytelling skills. He knew how to set a scene and get a reader involved in the narrative. If he had managed to control his pacing and keep Wheel of Time to three or four books — it didn’t need to be longer than that — and had finished the series in the early 1990s, he might have been a touchstone author. You know what I mean. You have to read Tolkien at some point to consider yourself versed in high fantasy. You have to read Rowling to consider yourself versed in modern young-adult fantasy. You have to read Heinlein to consider yourself versed in classic mid-20th Century science fiction. The Big Fat Fantasy sub-genre wasn’t so overcrowded that Jordan couldn’t have been a must-read figure, if not as high on the list as those just mentioned.

Now? You can get by without reading Robert Jordan. You certainly can avoid it when a single complete dose is 4,400,000 words.

I won’t fault Brandon Sanderson. He picked up the ball and kept the level of quality roughly where it had been. His narrative work wasn’t always as engrossing, but he had a better handle on the women characters and his books didn’t stall out in terms of pacing the way several of Jordan’s later ones did. The problem was the story told in Wheel of Time wasn’t special. It just filled the pages.

You want to be versed in modern imaginary-world fantasy? After Tolkien, try Robin Hobb and George R.R. Martin and sprinkle in a few not-to-everyone’s-taste virtuosos like Jacqueline Carey. They’ve raised the bar. They weren’t part of the sub-genre back when the first volumes of Wheel of Time came out. They are the examples of the competition that has risen up and rendered Wheel of Time superfluous. I am disappointed with myself that I kept with it all the way through. A Memory of Light’s main virtue was that when I turned the last page, I knew it was the last page.

• What do you think you’ll read next?

Volcano Weather: The Story of 1816, the Year without a Summer by Henry Stommel and Elizabeth Stommel.

I have Mary Robinette Kowal to blame for this one. She gave a reading recently at SF-in-SF. While talking about research, she brought up a key aspect of 1816, the year in which her current novel is set. Due to the eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia in 1815 and resultant ash polluting the upper atmosphere, the summer of 1816 was so cold there were massive crop failures across North America and Europe, leading to famine and all manner of wrack and ruin. It was the most powerful volcanic eruption of the past 10,000 years, some say.

I do a lot of genealogy. For reasons I don’t have room to discuss here, my great great grandparents on my mother’s side are the prime focal points of my research. Two of my great great grandfathers were born in 1816. I couldn’t resist finding out more about what things must have been like for their parents that year.

What about you? What have you been reading lately? Put the link to your WWW Wednesday entry in comments, or just tell us!

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WWW Wednesday 5-8-2013 — 5 Comments

  1. I’d read about the year without a summer before. It’s interesting to see it crop up in fiction (and possibly even moreso when it’s not mentioned even though it should have been).

  2. I read the first page and a half of WHEEL OF TIME, and stopped. I still congratulate myself on the time I have saved. How many books written, books read, sweaters knitted, food cooked, in that time!

    • I made it about fifty pages in, realized it was the same old same old. I probably would have loved it if I’d encountered it twenty years before; the sense of wonder was totally missing, and I could predict what was coming.

  3. Read: Fyre by Angie Sage, thus concluding the Septimus Heap series (reviewed here)
    One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire (reviewed here).
    Reading: Guardian by Jack Campbell. Which they call “The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier” even though the fleet had ceased to be lost by the sixth book in the first series, and they are certainly not beyond the frontier in this book.
    To Read: Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire

  4. The year without a summer is coming. I have a child born in the first scene of the third Alfreda novel prophesying Tambora. There’s an interesting reference book about events in the US leading up to that, if you want some US history to fill in the edges. I will dig up the title for you if you’re want it. I started looking for info on the War of 1812. I ended up with a volcano and one of US history’s greatest villains — and the Mississippi running backwards for several days. But that was the Madrid Earthquake, and still another lead!