Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dear Sci-Fi Authors, It’s Not You, It’s Me … Maybe

I just finished the ARC for Way of Kings by Brian Sanderson, which was really good, and I will recommend it to our customers. However, it does go on the list of recent sci-fi/fantasy novels that have failed to satisfy me as much as I’d hoped.

My frustration is probably my own fault. For one thing, I am not a fan of long series, and this huge book is apparently the first of at least 10 volumes. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, which Sanderson was hired to complete after Jordan’s death, has a word count in the millions, and there are still (at least) two volumes to go. I just can’t give over a year of my life to finishing it. Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth started out so well, but by book four or five was repeating its pattern of danger, bondage, misunderstood prophecies and dramatic rescue, so I dropped it. (I later suffered through The Law of Nines, so that’s like Goodkind extra credit.) Sanderson also -- again like Jordan and Goodkind -- tells his grand epic through the eyes of a few key characters in a way which brings a level of immediacy that I enjoyed, but it failed to impress on me the scope of the world in which it is set, or the true level of danger the characters face.

I spent more than three decades reading hundreds of fantasy and science-fiction novels. I can remember the thrill of finding so many new discoveries, old masters and hidden gems in that time. Like most young fantasy lovers, I lived in Narnia until I was ready for Tolkien. (I still re-read the Lord of the Rings every year or two.) From there, I branched out in countless directions: Burroughs, Andre Norton, Asimov, and so many others. I hit a wall in the early 1990s, when I suddenly felt everything I picked up was derivative – the boy in a small village finds he is being hunted by dark forces, he collects a little band of misfits to help him flee, and the fate of the world is on his shoulders.

It was probably Black Sun Rising (C.S. Friedman) that revived my love for fantasy. It had great characters, a fantastic world of magic, and a plot full of challenging moral dilemmas. After I plowed through as many of her books as I could find (In Conquest Born is perhaps my favorite), I was back in love with fantasy. And when I discovered David Gemmel (Legend is close to perfect, and Knights of Dark Renown – though flawed – is simply beautiful), I knew how lucky I was as a reader to travel with him.

But my new finds over the last several years have been few and far between. Of course I have my favorites; I’ve written before of my love for Shadowbridge (Gregory Frost). And Lamentation (Ken Scholes), while the first in what will likely be a long series, works very well as a stand-alone work. (I’ve hesitated starting the second – Canticle – because I don’t want to be in another long series.) But I just haven’t seen much else that has held up to favorites from the past. I recognize that as a bookstore owner, I now have so much I feel I have to read, that maybe I’m now too impatient with books that I want to read. If I pick up a fantasy, it needs to be really impressive because I don’t know when I’m going to have time to read another, but I’m too often disappointed. I’ve tried reading more teen fantasy (partly to know what’s out there, and also because they’re shorter), but even more of these are not worth anyone’s time. I’ll give credit to the good ones at another time.

So am I just more picky now that I have less time to read new books in my favorite genre? Am I just missing the best new authors? Is every good fantasy author suddenly doing vampire books instead of swords and sorcery? Your thoughts and recommendations are welcome; in the meantime, I’m going back to Middle-earth for another visit.


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