Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Quick Takes: Erikson, Butler, King

Midnight Tides, by Steven Erikson: The usual course I take in beginning a new Malazan novel is that during the first hundred pages or so I'm confused and unsure on how exactly this all fits in with the overarching series and how things will connect. I also wonder why I care. Then, after approximately a hundred pages parts of the pattern begins to fill in and I have a greater vision of the characters and the world and how these new characters will interact eventually with the characters I am more familiar with. Even House of Chains with its opening Karsa Orlong saga was able to draw me in.

Not so with Midnight Tides. One hundred, two hundred, three hundred pages and I was at a loss. The Tehol and Bugg chapters were engaging, but the Letherii and Edur with the Sengar family chapters were brutal. The writing was as cryptic as ever, but Midnight Tides was an instance of one thing too many in the story and it all fell apart. This is just a guess, but I believe I finished eight books in between starting and finishing Midnight Tides. It was nearly nine or ten. There were instances which gripped me: The Crimson Guard, nearly anything with Bugg, Kettle, Tehold, the other zombie woman, Brys...this stuff was engaging. Moments of the Sengar Family Saga worked, but as a novel, as a story...Midnight Tides failed. If I did not need Midnight Tides to connect the dots to The Bonehunters and beyond, I would have put the book down by page two hundred and read a different / better book.

Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler: This fourth published novel in the Patternist sequence is actually the earliest novel in the chronology. Even though Wild Seed is only the second (and I believe last) novel in which Doro appears, Doro is a character which looms large over the entire Patternist sequence. Wild Seed does not approach Doro's origins in the timeline, but over the course of the novel Doro divulges much of how he came to be able to take over the bodies of others and why he began the breeding program which will eventually yield stable telepaths.

While Doro is nominally the main character here, soon Anyanwu a three hundred year old healer takes center stage. We soon wonder how, if she has lived so long, we had not seen her in Mind of My Mind. That question is eventually answered. Anyanwu is the heart of Wild Seed and she is, in fact, the "wild seed" of the novel and is referred to as such several times. Anyanwu eventually helps Doro build more stable communities of his telepaths, but there is a good deal of conflict between Doro and Anwaywu.

Wild Seed, along with Mind of My Mind, is probably the strongest of the Patternist novels (with only Clay's Ark to go) and at fewer than three hundred pages, it is a brief yet captivating entry set over more than one hundred years in the Patternist Saga. While I understand that many readers (including myself at times) prefer to read a series in chronological order, I would recommend reading Patternist in publication order. Knowing all about Doro and Anyanwu from the start would make the first experience of Mind of My Mind a lesser experience, and knowing all about the Pattern and the telepaths would make Patternmaster a disappointing novel (it was Butler's first novel and it is still one of the weakest in her catalog).

'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King: I've seen the movie, though I remember next to nothing except for a creepy house. I know it's his vampire story. But 'Salem's Lot begins with a writer, Ben Mears, returning to the town of four years of his childhood: Jerusalem's Lot (great name for a town, by the way!). He hopes to do some further research on the Marsten's House, the local "haunted house" with a dark history. Because Ben is something of an outsider, and an "artsy writer", Ben is viewed with some distrust. 'Salem's Lot opens with some whispers about the house, but mostly with small town distrust and the small town manner of shutting out everybody but the locals, and even some of the locals. It moves ever gradually over 600 pages (in mass market paperback) from small town suspicion to full blown vampire horror and King takes us on a ride.

The thing about 'Salem's Lot is that while the novel is 600+ pages, it feels like perhaps 300. It reads very smoothly and very quickly. In a blink 50 pages have passed and we are sucked in to the darkness hidden in The Lot, as the locals call their town. For only being Stephen King's second published novel, this is an accomplished piece of horror and one where the horror is not just the vampires. It is the darkness within.


Neth said...

Interesting - I've always considered Midnight Tides to be Erikson's best written novel.

Joe said...

Perhaps in terms of craft, it is. But, in terms of storytelling...

Painful at times.

I know some of the folks at FBS really admire this one and see Erikson as greatly improving with each novel. I see the improvements, just not with this one.

Neth said...

I suppose that this is just a case of valid differing opinions. To me, Erikson peaked with MT and has slid since then - particularly with BH.

Joe said...

You are likely right. I am a bit nervous about The Bonehunters. Maybe it's the US Cover...