Here we have my very first interview with an author, and I was lucky enough to get Ian C. Esslemont to agree to this. So thank you ICE, and please forgive my unpolished interview technique.
TCD: Your latest novel Dancer’s Lament (Path to Ascendancy Book 1) (currently available in the UK, and forthcoming in the US) is the first book of a prequel trilogy set in the Malazan world. So, if you can forgive the bluntness, I wanted to ask a few questions about it and thought we would get some of the straightforward ones out of the way. So what is Dancer’s Lament about?
ICE: Firstly, many thanks for the opportunity to talk about the Malazan books. One of my main hopes for Dancer’s Lament is that any general fantasy reader who has previously never read anything from Steve or I can pick up the book and enjoy it, and perhaps become interested in the wider world portrayed.
For that reason what I will say about it is that it’s about character. It is really, at its centre, a character(s) study – what choices they make and what the consequences are of those choices; how seemingly innocuous moves can have huge consequences later in life; and further, how the traditional history of “great events” and “great men and women” is to my mind completely misleading.
I will also say that I am very leery of the “prequel” word. Don’t like it. I see this as a new series in the Malaz world – the Path to Ascension – that (could) prove as long as it need be to tell its tale.
Spoiler Free Review: The Fiends of Nightmaria (6th Bauchelain and Korbal Broach Novella) by Steve Erikson (Subterranean Press, 2016)
Bonkers, absurd, silly, fantasy comedy, this time poking fun at dungeon crawls and the often times ridiculous politics of genre fantasy novels… amongst the other usual targets. Sharply written, but did I mention silly, absurd fun? Plus, the Subpress Edition has great artwork.
(Only Slightly) Longer Review:
The king is dead, long live King Bauchelain the First, crowned by the newly en-cassocked Grand Bishop Korbal Broach. Both are, of course, ably assisted in the running of the Kingdom of Farrog by their slowly unravelling manservant, Emancipor Reese.
Image above shamelessly stolen from Mark Lawrence’s Blog
History Repeating: A Return of Violent Machismo to Fantasy and Science Fiction
At the 35th Annual Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) in Orlando, March 2014, Stephen R. Donaldson, as a guest on a discussion panel, raised a concern about the apparent rise of violence, nihilism, cynicism, and darkness in modern genre fantasy writing. In particular he singled out what is most commonly referred to as ‘grimdark’, a sub-genre of fantasy popularised and exemplified by authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and George R.R. Martin. Although I should mention that he did not explicitly name those authors.
The common (mis)understanding of grimdark is that it is fantasy writing that eschews the tropes of hero, heroic quest and the simplistic morality of good winning out over evil, in favour of a much darker, more cynical fantasy world which is generally graphically and explicitly violent, morally bankrupt (or at the least deeply flawed), and celebrates the dirt, darkness and grittiness of the world. Heroic characters are replaced by violent, sociopathic, immoral or amoral protagonists, who are not so much anti-heroes as villains but on a side less villainous than the other. Good and evil have been replaced by evil and slightly less evil. In many ways a fairly accurate rendering of what the news presents us with on a daily basis, on the hour, every hour.
Worldbuilding and the Malazan Book of the … Feminist?
At the heart of a significant proportion of fantasy is the diegetic reality, the setting itself, the diegesis or storyworld. It is one of the things that often sets fantasy apart from other forms of literature, those stories that use the real world as the foundational basis for the setting of the narrative.
Fantasy, like a lot of SF and Horror, creates a new reality in which the narrative resides. So where Dickens, Austen, the Brontёs set their work in a contemporaneous, if fictionalised, England, the settings of their works did not need to be invented as they simply lifted complete societies, customs, economics, races, prejudices and biases from England, the real world. Not only that, but their diegetic storyworld did not have to be fundamentally altered or disguised, it could be a fairly accurate depiction of the real world. They could pretty much copy wholesale from what was outside their window. And lastly, the setting would be immediately familiar to their readers because it was not invented.
The continuing Epic fantasy saga following a handful of overpowered characters as they scheme and try to survive a civil war. Slower, and more politically and world-building focused than the initial volumes. Two of the female characters are raised to central prominence. A solid step toward the end of the series with lots of minor action sequences but temporarily loses sight of the major conflict.
If you are reading this I am assuming that you have already read Books 1 and 2 (The Black Prism and The Blinding Knife respectively). This book picks up on the cliffhanger ending of Book 2 with Gavin enslaved on a pirate vessel, Kip held prisoner by his half-brother Zymun, Karris worried about the missing Gavin, and Teia being courted by a secret society of ne’er-do-wells. You might notice the Liv and the Colour Prince don’t feature on that list… and that is because it seems that Weeks is leaving that storyline to the last book. While the story checks in on Gavin to keep you updated on his travails, the major focus on this novel is on Karris, Teia, and Kip, and a strong eye on the underhanded politics of the Chromeria. While the first two books aimed at high adventure and action Epic Fantasy, this book slows all the way down to focus more on the history and detail of the world, and spends time moving pieces around in preparation for the concluding book. So while it is great to have more character development and world-building, those looking for the civil war storyline to advance, the usual rip-roaring adventure and epic action, may be a little disappointed.
In a previous post I talked a little about the process of being an Advance Reader for an author. So this time around I thought I might talk a bit about what that actually means for me as a reader of fantasy, science fiction and genre literature. The pros and cons of the job, if you will.
From a fan perspective this sounds like the world’s greatest job… you get to talk to/meet/e-mail/have dinner with authors whose work you love, you get to read the books well in advance of publication, and… very occasionally… they may make some changes to the book based on your opinion. What’s not to love? It is a fan’s dream.
However, as with any job there are a couple of downsides.
Review: Dancer’s Lament (Path to Ascendancy Book 1) by Ian C. Esslemont
A great fantasy novel that is quintessentially ‘Malazan’ but in a streamlined, more story-centred form. The three main POVs give a tight focus to the first step of Shadowthrone and Cotillion’s legendary journey. A brilliant entry point to the Malazan universe for new readers as well as established Malazan fans.
When Ian C. Esslemont and Steven Erikson whiled away the hours on archaeological digs by creating the intricate fantasy world of the Malazan Empire and gaming adventures in it with the GURPS system, they also created the bedrock for one of the most engaging secondary world Epic fantasies in the genre. It is rare that two authors share ownership of a world and continue to produce well-crafted stories that intertwine and overlap, but never repeat. While co-creators they each possess their own writing style, and with Dancer’s Lament Esslemont demonstrates his command of both the fictive reality and a tightly focused, story-centric narrative.
Show me a written history that makes sense, and I will show you true fiction.
Crone, Toll the Hounds
This paper was intended to be a brief look at some of the temporal anomalies that occur in genre fantasy writing and using Steven Erikson’s Malazan Books to illustrate different approaches to solving these issues.
However over the course of researching this I realised that this issue was a great deal more complicated and far reaching than I had originally thought and therefore this paper has become more of a series of questions rather than an attempt to illustrate the answers.
In essence however it is an attempt to show that suspension of disbelief is not enough, there must be a rationality and coherency present for a fantasy world to truly function and captivate. In fact a world must be internally coherent as well as rationally consistent in order for suspension of disbelief to function effectively. And the treatment of time is one of the major elements whereby fantasy fails to be rational.
As more authors self-publish, and as editors in publishing firms have less time to focus on ‘editing’ given their increased time on all the other aspects of book production, a significant number of authors are turning to professional Advance Readers and freelance editors to help them polish their latest work.
One of the things that I have been very privileged to do is be an Advance Reader for some very talented authors. So I thought I would discuss part of what that entails for me as a professional, and what I and other Advance Readers, hopefully, offer authors.
An epic fantasy that is showing signs of runaway plot-threads. Secondary characters are given full rein while the central characters and story of Arlen and Jardir are side-lined once again. Also hints of unnecessary complexity added to an already full story at the expense of the core, magical story. Despite this, it is an interesting and enjoyable fantasy that further expands the world and the broader narrative canvas.
If you are reading this I am assuming that you have already read the first three books in the series (The Warded Man/The Painted Man, The Desert Spear, and The Daylight War). If you haven’t, this book won’t make much sense to you at all. As it is, even after having read the first three, there isn’t much of a continuation of the main story and this reads as overly complicated, needless filler or as a side narrative that sits as a companion to the main story. Don’t get me wrong, it was entertaining and I enjoyed reading it, but I just didn’t care about a lot of the secondary characters who had suddenly leapt into prominence. And I was one of those people that really liked The Daylight War. But, before I go on about the aspects of the novel that I didn’t like, let me first say that it was a good book. It was readable. There were some genuinely engaging aspects and more than one event that I didn’t see coming. It was good enough that I will be buying the next one.