I’m still obsessing about this series, and I’m starting to piece together why. I’ll make a few brief notes here…
- All fantasy series involve lots of walking. It’s one of the easiest and best jokes to make about the heroes…day 98, they’re still walking…guess what, they’re walking…and so on. In ASOIAF GRRM turned that trope on its head a bit by identifying the pain of refugee status, even when nobles are the refugees. In MBotF the walking is much more directed – hunting or being hunted, running or pursuing, and so on. It’s also much more physical – we see camps and the problems of logistics and the mind-numbing fatigue and boredom that the walkers face.
- The vast number of deaths also make me wonder if this series is designed to make up for previous fantasy series’ failures to acknowledge that people died, but I actually more directly think that Erikson is writing about genocide. If a common cultural anxiety expressed in fantasy is for a return to prelapsarian, perhaps agrarian, definitely perceived as peaceful days, then Erikson’s series reminds us that maybe life was cheap.
- I’m not happy with that cultural anxiety, as I think in a lot of ways it’s too easy.
- Instead, I’m going to try to write some observations…
- As I noted in the earlier post, I keep trying to ground this series in something that I recognize.
- Erikson creates so many races in this series that I can’t help but want to place it in some far-future universe (unlike ASOIAF, which feels like an alternative earth, one that allows Martin to explore what he seems to feel is our relationship with the planet being thrown off track by the rapaciousness of humans).
- I wonder if Erikson might be mocking my own (and I’m guessing shared) obsession with the idea of grounding a series at all. I’ll blame Robert Silverberg, as he is the first author that I read who deliberately messed with readerly expectations of a set, easily-locatable narrative chronology. I keep wanting to place it, but every time I do I realize how difficult that objective is, and I start to wonder if being unable to place it is the point.
- In that sense, then, maybe MBotF is a series set in a game. Some evidence for that might be Erikson’s comfort with keeping characters alive from book to book (Abercrombie does this too, and I got frustrated with him as well, but maybe that’s part of the point). After ASOIAF I became enamored with GRRM’s willingness to kill off main characters, and I started to think that maybe, just maybe, that’s what’s makes a fantasy series worth reading now.
- How does a series get set in a game world? The standard way to do that, of course, is to make money off an already-existing franchise, but Erikson and his partner didn’t create the game, make a bunch of money off it, and then start writing the novels. They approached this world from the other direction.
- In some ways doing this makes the series less interesting, I guess? Subverting games has been part of the genre since its beginning (I’m thinking of DOOM and the BFG as a prime example), but I’m assuming that Erikson wants to subvert something – that’s a safe assumption with GRRM, but maybe not so much here.
- As I get further along in the series, Erikson tries much different approaches with his voices, although they have started to sort themselves out. In the first four books he was pretty consistent with the tone of his character’s dialogues – the non-recognizable humans were pretty straightforward without much sense of humor (although Karsa Orlong can be funny at times), while the humans, esp. the Malazan imperial soldiers, are witty in a grim and aggressive way (one that made me chuckle a bunch, and that I’m guessing Erikson wants to portray as very similar to show how language forms in a culture, even one that is a sub-culture like a military unit).
- Genocide, realism in fantasy, depictions of demons and dinosaurs and dragons as interior desires manifest physically
- Erikson gives us some hints here…