Having long since caught up to George R.R. Martin's progress in finishing his A Song of Ice and Fire saga, I've been on the hunt for some fantasy methadone to make waiting for the man a little more bearable, but, most importantly, only if it doesn't make me wonder why I'm not reading something else. (It's always been much easier to find well-written science fiction.) One such series that's regularly suggested in Google searches is Steven Erikson's 10 volume Malazan Book of the Fallen (e.g., this site suggests it's one of the best, as does NPR's list). I was wary, since its densely imbricated world has its origins in Erikson and co-creator Ian Cameron Esselmont's formative years as role-gaming enthusiasts (the latter has his own series of novels based in the same diegesis). But most writers don't have Tolkien's background in history, language and mythology, so the counterfactual worldbuilding has to come from somewhere, I guess. Besides, Martin himself has been influenced by gaming and my goto critic of weird fiction, Jeff Vandermeer, seems to admire the series. So I tried the first book, Gardens of the Moon, only to suffer through it until page 221 (of 484), when I threw in the towel. The possibility of nine more volumes of this:
The flat tone of her voice told Toc that her invitation had not cost anything -- and this horrified him, shook him to his very core. A quick glance showed a similar response from Tayschrenn and Dujek, though the latter veiled it.
was too much. It doesn't matter who the 'her' refers to or what the invitation is (it's the Adjunct Lorn, FYI, inviting the person who killed her family, the sorceress Tattersail, to the dinner table as a show of political tact), only that without knowing anything about what's going on, you can tell exactly what everyone's emotional reactions are and that this woman is very capable of coldly repressing her own. There's no character opacity here: even though Dujek "veils" his reaction, the narrator assures the reader that this character, too, is "horrified." Page after page, the book reads like a dungeon master telling his players what they're facing. Erikson hollows it out further by assigning every character clearcut roles from the D&D manual: a thief, an assassin, a soldier, a mage, a god, etc.. This is adult fantasy only relative to a lifetime of reading Dragonlance novels.