Friday, 30 April 2010

Jordanian hiatus

No Jordan review this week. What can I tell you? What with one thing and another, one thing being some other reading I needed to do, and some writing of my own that took up a good chunk of my time, and another being, you know, this 'having a life' malarky of which people sometimes speak, I didn't finish reading it. But do not say I have given up for good. I shall take a deep breath and have another go. Rejoice not against me, O my enemy, and so on, and so forth.

I did pick up vol 8, the Path of Doggers, on a couple of occasions. I even made it through the bloated 44-page prologue ‘Deceptive Appearances’, in which various royals and wizards meet in a mighty convocation to sit astride dancing horses (‘Tenobia gave a sudden, shocking laugh. Her gelding tried to dance’, 23) and establish alliances to destroy the dragon; followed by a section in which an Aes Sedai called Verin Mathwin interrogates some people and inwardly waffles on and on. But though I had several goes at chapter one I couldn’t get myself into it. And this despite promising sentences like:
East the wind blew across Tremalking, where the fair-skinned Amayar farmed their fields, and made fine glass and porcelain, and followed the peace of the Water Way.
The wind did?

Why did I fail? Oh, why did I fail to polish off wotviii this week, I thought to myself, creasing my brow and tugging my braids. Since the Age of Legends I have been reading this bu’u’ook, as the ancient bound codices were called. White streaking my beard and hair, I stroked the mindtrap upon my bedside table. I must be careful, I thought. Careful. To take care. Three different skills were in play, the ancient art of readin, the even more ancient and venerable art, of which only a few dozen in the world were true masters, of Turnian Pages, and, most difficult of all preventing the bitter, lethal brain num that inevitably pursued any man who dared to channel the antique magic of this kind of readin. It could be fatal, brain num. Fatal, it could be. I tugged my braid. The old Ar Selbow proverb came back to me: readin should be a chore, not a pleasure. I thought, oh, but I've read so much! To give up now would be ... but I left the utterance an axe-handle short of completion. Was there room for any more? I tugged my braids. Hardly any hair left, I thought to myself. I wonder if tugging it all the time is responsible for it falling out? I wonder. I wonder.

It's only 560 pages long, too. Tch!

46 comments:

Larry said...

You failed to sniff at the woolheads. Perhaps you need to scrub some more pots and pans before resuming your WoT training?

E.T. said...

Smoothe your skirts a little. The book might yet let you in its velvety boozzumm.

seanmfisher said...

That last paragraph is hilarious, but reads just like Jordan.

Larry said...

E.T,

Are those skirts blue slashed with cream?

E.T. said...

Very possibly so. I don't remember, however; from the moment I started the series to the moment I gave it up I vigorously practiced my skip-reading techniques on the clothing and furniture descriptions...

E.T. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E.T. said...

By the way, I had to get into Zelazny (thankfully it happened on time) to learn that you can actually describe a simple action simply and make your book three times thinner than a Jordan without sacrificing content. This is by way of Adam's constant comments about how pillowy The Wotvee is.

Larry said...

I know the feeling. I started re-reading the series for the first time in a decade as a direct result of Adam's commentaries here and even the novels I remembered as being relatively decent were poorer this time around, in large part because I had read novels in which the authors were more economical with their descriptions and yet managed to create rich settings and dynamic characters. Stagnating characters interest me little and I bet that's what he's discovering now (just as I am).

E.T. said...

I can't imagine who would be interested in stagnating characters at all. Even at the height of my WOT-mania I skimmed almost all the time. Wasn't interested in anything but that murky feeling of escape from reality that the books used to give me.

Turned out there was something about the sheer weight of the book, the number of pages that effected that feeling, and all the characters and paraphernalia were somehow secondary. Strange.

Come to think of it, I wouldn't call the WOT experience "reading", exactly. I think when I realized that, I gave it up.

JVC said...

I am a 40 years old French guy and I read a lot of Fantasy and SF books in English even though it is not my first language (but I studied (and got an MBA) in the USA.
I must say that WOT is certainly my preferred series and I really enjoyed all of the books (even the slow ones) as it makes me feel good to be immersed in this rich world that RJ created.
On the other hand, I feel that LoTR is the worst series I have ever read. I forced myself to read it before seeing the movie. It was such a chore that I stopped after book 2. I felt no empathy toward the characters and all of Tolkien writing felt heavy, boring, with lots of uninteresting bits thrown in.
It reminded me of my school days when I had to read "Madame Bovary" by Flaubert. I already was at that time (even though I read only in French) a big reader. Usually when a teacher gave a list of books and asked us to read one, I read all of them.
But Flaubert, I hated his writings! I remember being told that he took a lot of time to write and even tested the sounds of his sentences by saying them out loud. I believe that I felt reading his prose, the heaviness of too much work on it and no spontaneity and lightness.
That's also what I felt from Tolkien.
Taking into account on one hand your evident dislike for the way RJ write and the fact that many comments show an agreement with your view and, on the other hand, the remarkable success of WOT and the large fan base and my being in agreement with those fans.
And the fact that in Tolkien case, I am the one with the big dislike of his writing style and you are the one on the side of the masses of fans.
I would like you to consider that everyone 'taste' is different and that if you have every rights to dislike RJ and WOT, you may not have the right to say that it is BAD writing. Indeed, by saying that, you insult me and all the fans who do love RJ's writing style and the World he built in WOT.
So, as a final suggestion, if you cannot get interested in the story, STOP READING as I did with Tolkien rather than getting bitter and insulting a successful writer and its numerous fans by insinuating that you have to be feeble-minded to appreciate RJ writings.

E.T. said...

@ 40-Year-Old French Guy:

First of all, I have no idea where that Tolkien/Flaubert jab is coming from.
What, you think you're defending "RJ"'s honor by insulting that of Tolkien and Flaubert? How is that an adequate line of argument?

So calm down, 40-Year-Old French Dude. OK, you don't like Tolkien. That doesn't make "RJ"'s writing less bad. To me/us. And yes, if everyone is indeed entitled to their own tastes in literature, as you yourself say, I/we "may" have the right to say that. And then I/we can say why we think so, as we do, and as you yourself did in that confusing verbal ramble about Tolkien and Flaubert.

Also, I am well aware of WOT's fan base. Are YOU aware of its ANTI-fan base, hmmm? Are you aware that, if my experience is anything to go by, about 50% of the 40 million people who've bought books from the series are, at best, bored by it, and at worst, appalled by its development (until book 12, which I hear is very good)?

If you choose to be insulted by my/our opinion that "RJ"'s books are not well written, that's entirely your problem, my 40-Year-Old French Friend. I'll only say that being personally insulted by someone's not liking a book you like is some very un-40-Year-Old-worthy behaviour, as is your present rant.

I suppose my answer is also pretty childish, but then again I'm 24 and prone to bouts of immature righteousness.

Sorry, Adam, if this thread's turned too aggressive. You can delete my comments if you find them inappropriate. Sorry again :)

dstockhoff said...

Funny thing about Tolkien. In my memory, the main feature of his writing is its weight, much as French Guy describes. Perhaps this is because I first read it at around age 9 or 10.

But at each of several rereads since then, I have always been struck by how light it is---how clear and transparent, how quick in supplying action, how much like a boy's-adventure series.

It's a difficult style to master, this combination of heavy and light. Many have tried to copy it and have failed, and paid for it with their ... er, have been well paid for it.

David Langford said...

It is so uncanny that your Jordanese should have been anticipated in 1993 by the grumpy comments of someone who proofread book five for the UK:

http://www.ansible.co.uk/cc/cc45.html#jordan

I don't know whether to write to Fortean Times or Private Eye.

Adam Roberts said...

David: you have me bang to rights. You should right to Sue, Grabbit & Runne.

TO be clear: Dave sent me that link in a private email. It may have influenced me, on a purely subconscious level of course.

E.T. said...

I seem to have completely wiped away the memory of such gushes of reverie, can't remember for the life of me how exactly characters thought in these books... I feel so lucky :)

Adam Whitehead said...

This was always going to be interesting. Even the most ardent Jordan fans would agree that Book 8 is where the series really starts falling off the rails, reaching an all-time nadir with the tenth volume before improving again after that.

For someone not overtly keen on the first few books, this means that you're in a really good time for the next three volumes or so :-) But keep up the struggle! Think of the gems that will be lost to Thog if you lose heart now!

Adam Roberts said...

JVC: Thank you for your detailed comment. I am impressed at your English, competent enough to read so lengthy a series (it is certainly better than my French). We may have to agree to disagree.

"I would like you to consider that everyone 'taste' is different and that if you have every rights to dislike RJ and WOT, you may not have the right to say that it is bad writing."

I may be reading this wrong, but it looks as though you're suggesting I have the right to dislike Jordan provided I don't actually articulate my dislike in any way. That can't be right, though, surely? Freedom of speech, and all that?

Otherwise, I understand that you enjoyed these books very much, where you found Tolkien and Flaubert boring and hateful. It so happens that Madame Bovary is one book I have read in French (I read it in English translation first, mind you, and sometimes had to lean on that translation to help me through). It's an extraordinary, luminous, brilliant book. And I have read LotR many times; it's holy writ to my imagination. Our tastes, clearly, differ. But more than this, your position puts me in a peculiar and unprecedented position. Normally I would say that a difference of taste is simply a differential, and that there's no absolute benchmark against which to judge who is 'right' and who 'wrong'. But the aesthetic judgement: 'Tolkien and Flaubert are boring and hateful; Robert Jordan is an immensely superior writer to either' is one that makes me reconsider my relativism.

Mais c'est gentil de vous de commenter ici. Je ne prévois aucune insulte personnelle a vous, je vous en prie.

Adam Roberts said...

Adam W.: you inspire me.

Larry, E.T.: indeed!

JVC said...

@ Adam Roberts :
Thank you for your answer.
What I meant to say is that what we dislike is not necessarily BAD.
We dislike it (or even hate it) because of our 'taste' which was formed by our raising (and maybe genetics).
I didn't say that Tolkien and Flaubert were bad writers, just that I found reading them boring and their writing style very heavy which made me unable to feel interested in the characters and pulled in the story the way I was pulled in Bel-Ami from Guy de Maupassant, a book I read at the same time I stuggled through Madame Bovary or in WOT, or Pern from Anne McCaffrey, or Harry Potter, or Thursady Next from Jasper Fforde or Mistborn from Brandon Sanderson or many other stand alone books.
When I first found your blog, I thought that it would help me understand what anti-WOT were finding wrong with this series beside the slowness that culminate in book 10 (but that I did not mind so much since I really feel good 'being' in this World that RJ created). However, it turns out that you are put off by RJ writind style the way I am put off by Tolkien's and therefore, you cannot be a real critic of the 'story' because you are unable to get into it as well as most of your commenters.
So I believe your entries serve more to express publicly your 'frustation' at not liking a best selling and successful series than at being really constuctive in your criticism.
I have felt the same at really not getting into LotR when everything I read or heard about it was so positive.
Et merci pour le petit mot en français à la fin de votre commentaire.

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E.T. said...

At JVC:

So I take it that criticism of the "writing" is inferior to that of the "story" and the two are somehow separable? It's possible to disregard "writing" and analyse "story", or something of the sort, right?

JVC said...

(I translated with Google the Chinese message above and it is spam for sex DVD and such)

@ E.T.

For me it is evident that they are indeed separable.
Otherwise, I would have had to conclude that LotR was a bad story which somehow seem incompatible with its success and your (and other commenters) view of it.

However, I did not say that "criticism of the 'writing' is inferior to that of the 'story'".
I said that if you are put off by the writing, you cannot really criticize or analyse the story because you cannot get to (or into) the story.

The same story told/written by two different persons can touch you when told/written by one and leave you completly indifferent (or disliking it) when told/written by the other. My point is that it does not mean that one is a 'good' story teller and the other is a 'bad' one, but that one use/has a style that please you and the other not.
Furthermore, when a story is successful its seems somewhat evident that it must have catered to the 'taste' of a large number of people that, unless you feel arrogantly superior, are not complete idiots.

Finally, I recall reading that RJ was a great fan of Tolkien and had only good things to write about him. Brandon Sanderson, who is finishing WOT, loved both and was very influenced by RJ in his desire to become a writer.
I suggest also reading this interview with Harriet McDougal (editor of WOT and widow of RJ) by Richard Fife during JordanCon 2010 http://bit.ly/Interview_Harriet_McDougal.

marco said...

Yeah, unlike Yellow Flood a few posts back, Enlightened Monarch doesn't give us snippets of Oriental wisdom, but rather prosaic and repetitive sexual allusions. Maybe he's trying to subtly point out unexpected similarities between the Aes Sedai and Japanese schoolgirs.

E.T. said...

"For me it is evident that they are indeed separable.
Otherwise, I would have had to conclude that LotR was a bad story which somehow seem incompatible with its success and your (and other commenters) view of it."

You could, of course, conclude that LotR is a bad story because you don't like how it's written. It's a completely valid point of view. But, see:

Then you'd have to explain WHY it's badly written (to you). With examples. That's how comparison of tastes works. Not with bare statemensts. Cause if you do enter such an argument an simply keep repeating that Flaubert and Tolkien were heavy and uninteresting, people would be prone to suspect the problem is with you and not with the books.

"However, I did not say that "criticism of the 'writing' is inferior to that of the 'story'".
I said that if you are put off by the writing, you cannot really criticize or analyse the story because you cannot get to (or into) the story."

Well, then you're saying that you need to go "through" the writing into the story. As if the writing is a sort of antechamber to the story's grand hall. As if it's a secretary and the story's boss.

What I'm saying is - Rand and co's overbloated treks through the wilderness IS story. Were the same events better written, without the accounts of every character's fart and stumble along the way, they would be A DIFFERENT story. Not the same story told in two different ways.

And one more thing. Being "put off" means actually putting the book down. Adam hasn't. So he obviously wasn't put off enough by the writing and HAS got into the story. He can probably summarize it pretty well. So I think he CAN critique/criticize it.

Or are you suggesting that only someone who's got "into" a story - in the sense of having taken a real interest in it, in other words, liked it - should analyze it? And if you don't like the writing, is it axiomatical that you wouldn't be able to get "into" the story "through" it? So the moment you find yourself disliking the writing, you shouldn't really bother to even try writing a critique?

Or is it possible for someone to be almost "put off" by the writing, but not enough to throw the book down, and still to be well enough into the story, but without actually liking it very much, and THEN to write a critique? Well, I don't know....

E.T. said...

"The same story told/written by two different persons can touch you when told/written by one and leave you completly indifferent (or disliking it) when told/written by the other. My point is that it does not mean that one is a 'good' story teller and the other is a 'bad' one, but that one use/has a style that please you and the other not.
Furthermore, when a story is successful its seems somewhat evident that it must have catered to the 'taste' of a large number of people that, unless you feel arrogantly superior, are not complete idiots."

Well, noone's called "RJ" a bad storyteller. Noone here is judging anything by any sort of objective standard and the attitude of all the "RJ-dislikers" here, including Adam, is pronouncedly personal and not in any way elevated above some perceived "commoner".

You're basically strawmanning the opposition here, and not for the first time.

Also, there's no such thing as "the taste", sorry. There is this taste, and that taste, there my taste in hamburgers and there's my taste in South American white wines, my taste in comic-book movies and my taste in Haneke.

So, we can pretty much agree that Jordan doesn't satisfy the majority's taste for fine verbal art. And depending on whether you see fine verbal art and "story" as separable or not, he's either neither a good STORYteller, nor a good storyTELLER, or he's just not the latter. And on that lucid note, I think I'll stop for now...

Drew said...

I think it's interesting that so many people have their skirts in a bunch over your experiment. I've noticed and pointed out that this isn't a review - it is more similar to honest curiousity, yet some of the super fans out there can't seem to separate your opinion from their own. There is no need to burn people at the stake for having and expressing a different opinion - at least in my country there isn't!

SEK said...

Is this the one you tasked me to read, Adam? Because I did, that night, and I must say, the brain num was powerful with that one.

Bluejo said...

JVC -- It seems to me that you think there's something called "story" that's completely separate from the style and form in which the story is told, and further that you think that story is the only thing really worth talking about, as if the story is the nut inside the discardable shell of the way it is told.

If this were the case, then every retelling of a fairy tale would be the same and there would be no distinction to be made between Perrault's story of La Princesse de Bois Dormant, Robin McKinley's novel Beauty, and Disney's movie Sleeping Beauty. They're all the same story, all that differs is style and form.

I'm prepared to argue pretty much the opposite, that the style and form is the story, that there's nothing left when you take those things away, that the story of Asimov's "Nightfall" written by H.P. Lovecraft would be a fundamentally different thing, even if all the events happened in the same order.

It seems to me that this fundamentallyu different way of looking at fiction is the root of the disagreement here.

JVC said...

My reasonning may come out wrong as English is not my mother tongue.

I would also like to state that I read only for entertainment purpose (I am neither a writer nor a critic) therefore when I don't like what I am reading, I stop. I only had to go through Madame Bovary because it was a school assignment. As for LotR, I really wanted to enjoy it because everybody (including RJ) said it was great but after two books, it was too much of a chore for me and I never read book three)

E.T., I never said (or at least wanted to say) that there is such thing as "the taste".
Indeed, I thought I was (like you) saying the reverse, that there are a multitude of tastes.
That lead to my argument that RJ writing style was catering to the 'reading taste' of some people and was not to the 'reading taste' of some others (like yourself).
Of course, you have to have an interest ('taste') for the type of story being told.
If somebody dislike the fantasy or SF genre, like a person who cannot free his mind to accept anything different from his perceived reality, whatever the style, he will never get into the story.
But I take as a given that the people reading and commenting here like Fantasy and SF stories, so I tried to argue that the writing style can be a second barrier to getting pulled into the story.
And yes, Bluejo, I believe the style is the way the story is shown/dressed for presentation to the readers (the same way than how you are dressed will influence how people look at/approach/think of you even though you are the same person under the clothes).
So I believe that since Adam could not,in my opinion, get past his profound distaste for RJ style, and because it seems that for him this is only an experiment and not a review (and that he is free to do it or not), I was suggesting to him to "STOP READING" (my first message) as his critique of the first book was, I believe, enough to inform people of what he feels is inherently wrong in RJ style. For me each subsequent critique read like a repeat of the one from book one of the series.
But as Drew said: "(...) There is no need to burn people at the stake for having and expressing a different opinion - at least in my country there isn't!". So, because I am quite busy (having a business to help running) and because, as I said, I read for enjoyment and entertainment, I do not wish to spend time doing what E.T. asks "(...) Then you'd have to explain WHY it's badly written (to you). With examples. That's how comparison of tastes works. Not with bare statemensts.". What I gave you was my feelings concerning WOT and LotR, since I rely on them to buy and read books, I thought they were of interest...

Best regards to all,

JVC

JVC said...

Brandon Sanderson's EUOLogy: Goodbye Mr. Jordan
(Originaly posted on 09.19.07 on http://www.brandonsanderson.com/blog/550/EUOLogy-Goodbye-Mr.-Jordan)

My career, like many young fantasy authors, has been deeply influenced by Robert Jordan, and I find his passing a to be a tragedy for the entire community.

I still remember the first time I saw EYE OF THE WORLD on bookshelves. I was at my local comic store, which was the place where I bought my fantasy books. I went to buy the next book in the Guardians of the Flame series, and while browsing the new paperback shelf, I saw this HUGE fantasy novel there.

It was so big that it scared me, and I didn't buy it. (This is particularly ironic for me, who now regularly publishes books of 250,000 words or so.) Still, I can almost FEEL that moment, standing and holding the book in my hands, listening to someone play an antiquated upright of Cadash in the background.

EYE had such a beautiful Darryl Sweet cover. I'm often down on him as an artist, but with EYE OF THE WORLD, I remember why he became one of the powerhouses he is now. I think, even still, the cover of EYE is the best he's ever done—one of the best in fantasy. I remember opening the cover and seeing the second illustration on the inside flap, and wondering if it was a rejected cover design.

Either way, I loved the cover. The feel of the troop marching along, Lan and Moiraine proud and face forward. . . . The cover screamed epic.

I bought the book a few weeks later, and loved it. I was happy when, several years later, the next book came out in hardback. I couldn't afford it then, but I could afford DRAGON REBORN when it was in hardcover, and so I bought it. That has been my tradition ever since—I buy them, even if I haven't read the last two, as I wait for the series to finish.

I still think EYE is one of the greatest fantasy books ever written. It signifies an era, the culmination of the epic quest genre which had been brewing since Tolkien initiated it in the 60's. The Wheel of Time dominated my reading during the 90's, influencing heavily my first few attempts at my own fantasy novels. I think it did that to pretty much all of us; even many of the most literarily snobbish of fantasy readers were youths when I was, and read EYE OF THE WORLD when I did.

.../...

JVC said...

...

Eventually, I found myself reacting AGAINST Wheel of Time in my writing. Not because I disliked Jordan, but because I felt he'd captured the epic quest story so well that I wanted to explore new grounds. As his books chronicled sweeping scenes of motion set behind characters traveling all across his world, I started to set mine in single cities. As his stories focused on peasants who became kings, I began to tell stories about kings who became peasants. One of them those was ELANTRIS.

I only saw Robert Jordan one time. By then, I had begun attending the conventions. You could say I'd become a journeyman writer; I'd developed my style, and was now looking to learn about the business. At World Fantasy one year (I think it was Montreal), I saw a man in a hat and beard walk by in the hotel hallway outside a convention room. He was alone, yet distinguished, as he walked with his cane. I'd never seen him sit on panels, yet I felt that I should know who he was. I turned to the person beside me and asked.

"That?" they said as the figure hobbled around the corner. "That was James Oliver Rigney, Jr."

"Uh . . . okay."

"Robert Jordan," they said. "That was Robert Jordan."

Eventually, I got an offer on one of my books from an editor whom I'd met at that same World Fantasy convention. My agent suggested that we play the field, using that offer as bait to hook a larger deal at another publisher. But, this offer had come from Tor. Robert Jordan's publisher. Some fifteen years after I'd picked up that first printing copy of EYE OF THE WORLD, I still felt the influence of Jordan. Tor was his publisher. That MEANT fantasy to me. It's where I wanted to be.

I took the deal.

Now, he's gone. I'm sure many see this as an opportunity, not a tragedy. Who is the heir apparent? I wonder how many authors emailed their editors Monday, asking if someone was needed to finish the EYE OF THE WORLD series. Even if none of them are chosen for that task, there will be a feeling that Tor needs to push somebody to fill the hole in their line-up.

And yet, I sit here thinking that something has CHANGED. Something is missing. Some hated you, Mr. Jordan, claiming you represented all that is terrible about popular fantasy. Others revered you as the only one who got it RIGHT.

Personally, I simply feel indebted to you. You showed me what it was to have vision and scope in a fantasy series—you showed me what could be done. I still believe that without your success, many younger authors like myself would never have had a chance at publishing their dreams.

You go quietly, but leave us trembling.

Brandon Sanderson

Agony said...

I understand why most of you don't like WoT, but here's my opinion:

WoT is one of my favourites, but that's not becouse of the Jordan's "godly writing". I agree that his sentences can be very long, weird, ridiculous and over-detailed, but like I said, that's not the point of WoT.

For me, fantasy novels are all about diving into its world and living the story, or just live if the story is bad, with the characters. And no, I'm not a 15-year-old lonely teenager with a hope for a better life, not at all. I just like to visualize what happens in the book more strongly than with other genres. And that leads me to the length of WoT.

Of course I want to know what happens in the end, but when I finish a fantasy novel, I get a weird empty feeling, like I have lost something. Maybe I'm just plain insane, but that's the case. But anyway, the more lenghty a book, the better. I have followed the doings of Rand & co. for about eight years, and I really cannot picture the moment I have read the final words of the final novel. It's like WoT never ends.

So, to finally make some sense, it's much more important for me what happens, not how it is told. And that is the strength of WoT. It can seem a little odd since most of the time nothing happens, but Jordan has managed to create a wonderful and rich world, where everything have some meaning and an interesting story. One thing that clearly divides opinions is the detailness of Jordans writing. Someone couldn't care less where a particular spoon has been made, or how many empty bottles a random innkeeper has in his bedroom, but I think it's interesting wheter Saldea is the salt-paradise of the WoT-world. That just gives some more meaning to that nation.

Yes, Jordan has flaws, like the endless skirt-smoothing and such but I think it is what happens that really matters. I'm a little sad becouse your (Adam) first a couple great reviews of WoT have changed to you primarily listing "bad sentences" and telling all over again how much you suffer for reading such awful books. I'm not trying to insult you, but we already know that. I'm also not judging anybody for disliking/hating WoT becouse I completely understand (I hope) you. So, in turn, please try not to judge us, the fans. I have got a feeling we are some kind of brainwashed blind fools that don't understand anything about literaty.

And finally I hope I made some sense with all that, maybe I should've planed this a little. I also apologise my non-perfect english, I'm a Finn. (wonder if Adam knows some finnish...)

JVC said...

I agree 99% with Agony !

marco said...

I always take it a bit personally when someone mentions a language I don't understand. Especially an European language. I mean, after you know 2 or 3 Romance/Germanic/Slavic languages usually you feel you can understand the others pretty well, with a bit of applied linguistics and good ear.
Just the other day, during a discussion about the Finnish film Sauna in an Italian blog, I agreed with a linguist that the Finnish language really seems to overstate its cases.
( by the way, while the mental image of vigorous naked blonde young men in a sauna is powerful distraction for me, it appears the film is very good)

I relish in mocking other people's tastes as much as the next guy, but I must admit I can see Agony's point. After all I continued to buy Marvel comics for a long time, mentally editing in my mind some outrageous stinkers as soon as I read them, just because of the fascination I felt for the world and characters of Spiderman or the Fantastic Four.

Adam Roberts said...

Agony: 'I'm a little sad becouse your (Adam) first a couple great reviews of WoT have changed to you primarily listing "bad sentences" and telling all over again how much you suffer for reading such awful books. I'm not trying to insult you, but we already know that. I'm also not judging anybody for disliking/hating WoT becouse I completely understand (I hope) you. So, in turn, please try not to judge us, the fans. I have got a feeling we are some kind of brainwashed blind fools that don't understand anything about literaty.'

I'm sorry to say I don't speak any Finnish. I was at Finncon last year and had a fantastic time; but that's some complicated language you got there...

Your comment: I agree, the tone of my reviews has shifted as I've gone from book to book. But I'd say that's because the books have got markedly, quantifiably worse. And here's the thing about 'fandom', and me insulting, or otherwise, fans. I am a fan. I love this stuff. But being a fan does not mean surrendering all critical discernment or judgment. It doesn't mean having to swallow terrible books with a smile just because they are SF or Fantasy.

Bluejo is right, I think: style and substance, form and content, cannot be neatly separated out, such that bad form can be overlooked because one likes the content. It doesn't work that way.

Adam Roberts said...

Also ... what E.T. said.

JVC said...

Adam Roberts : Bluejo is right, I think: style and substance, form and content, cannot be neatly separated out, such that bad form can be overlooked because one likes the content. It doesn't work that way.
=> I think that marco & Agony wrote that they could... and I sure that countless others can too !

But I really mean that in your case concerning WoT and mine concerning LotR, we both are unable to get past the style and into the story.


Adam Roberts : But being a fan does not mean surrendering all critical discernment or judgment. It doesn't mean having to swallow terrible books with a smile just because they are SF or Fantasy.
=> And of course, YOU ARE the judge of what books are terrible and which are not ?
I myself believe that if people are buying the books its because they like them so I repeat my point, you may not like them BUT that does not mean that they are BAD.

And I would have liked to see your comment on what Mr Sanderson wrote in is Eulogy (maybe after reading one of his book).

E.T. said...

"I think that marco & Agony wrote that they could... and I sure that countless others can too !"

No, they can't. To them it's not a matter of separatig "style" from "content". They, and you, *like* Jordan's style (or at least don't find it objectionable in any major way), so you're inclined to enjoy the story. And if I'm not misinterpreting them, they are saying that Jordan offers them, more than anything else, a kind of escapist pleasure. And you can get that pleasure even with bad books. As Adam said somewhere, the WOT overwhelms you with its sheer mass, and if you are predisposed to curling up with a book, a glass of milk and a plate of cookies in bed, Jordan would be a damn nearly perfect choice.

The way I'm seeing things (stress on the *I*) you're content with munching away at a mostly bad fantasy series, reading a mostly bad story badly told, simply because you don't look for anything better in these books.

Have they given you some great insights in the nature of human life? I doubt it. Has any event in these books shaken you in any meaningful and lasting way? Has its language given you aesthetic pleasure? Which doesn't stop it from being capable of entertain you. Yes, you can sink your imagination's teeth in Jordan's world. The amount of WOT fan-fiction probably exceeds the volume of the series at least fiftyfold. On the other hand, the same is true for Star Wars, and it didn't stop the movies from being mostly bad, sans the visuals.


"And of course, YOU ARE the judge of what books are terrible and which are not ?
I myself believe that if people are buying the books its because they like them so I repeat my point, you may not like them BUT that does not mean that they are BAD."

And must he write his every post with a disclaimer up top: "I AM MERELY EXPRESSING A PERSONAL OPINION!!!"? Dude, seriously.

Of course he's the judge of what books are terrible and what are not. TO. HIM. You are "a judge" in the same way he is.

Only I can bet my hairballz he's read a bit more literature than you and he's given what he's read a little bit more thought than you have, his being a, you know, professor of Literature and a rather successful writer in the SF-genre...

Also, you could, anytime now, stop bringing up the popularity argument, all right? A book's literary merit simply doesn't depend on how many copies it's sold. And Adam's talking about literary merit here. OF COURSE the books obviously have a huge entertainment value, but seriously, how good a thing, any thing has to be, really, in order to entertain nowadays, hm?

Adam Roberts said...

"And of course, YOU ARE the judge of what books are terrible and which are not?"

I am a judge, naturally. All critics are judges. The crucial thing with a critic is not that s/he 'judges', but how s/he does; more specifically whether s/he supports their argument with evidence.

"I myself believe that if people are buying the books its because they like them so I repeat my point, you may not like them BUT that does not mean that they are BAD."

I don't disagree that lots of people buy these books; but I'd suggest that the fact that lots of people buy a book does not make it a good book. If it did, Dan Brown and Celebrity Autobiographies would be the great literature of our age.

Implicit in what you say (although you don't specifically say this) is a much more interesting question: why do so many people like rubbish books? There's no lack of much better literature around, after all. And most of the people who like rubbish books aren't idiots.

As I said earlier, your comments present me with an interesting challenge to my commitment to aesthetic relativism. Because it's hard to engage with what you say without falling back on the position: 'but Madame Bovary just is a better novel than The Path Of Daggers. For about forty reasons.' I could elaborate on what those forty reasons are, but this comment is running on in length as it is.

This in turn turns upon a larger, very thorny question: what grounds aesthetic judgment? On what grounds can we say (for instance) Tolstoy is a better novelist than Dan Brown, or that Monet or Picasso's paintings are better than the cover art to Wheel of Time books? That Beethoven's Ninth is better than Baa-baa-black sheep, or 'Sympathy For the Devil' better than 'Una Paloma Blanca'? Because we can and do make valid aesthetic judgments to that effect.

"And I would have liked to see your comment on what Mr Sanderson wrote in is Eulogy"

Sanderson's eulogy, apart from some generalised praise for the novels (required, of course, by the occasion), is about what a nice man Robert Jordan was. That's appropriate for a eulogy, but has no bearing on the literary merit of The Wheel of Time. L’auteur est mort, vous savez.

E.T. said...

Aaargh, some grammatic mistakes in the above. Should proofread more carefully. Sorry :)

E.T. said...

Cack! I mean the post above Adam's. We seem to have posted at the same time :)

Agony said...

Oh bummer, I was so sure you would say something weird in Finnish :P

I definitely wasn't, and will not be, insulted by your reviews, Adam. Actually, I don't mind at all what others may think or say or write about things I like, becouse usually they have really good reasons to do that, like you do. Everyone has their right to like or dislike whatever they want. My best discussions about books and movies and such have been with persons whose views and opinions have been the complete opposite of mine. It is so rewarding to differ, at least so long that nobody starts to insult or quarrel. And the reason why I wrote my comment was to explain why I like WoT and how I read fantasy.

So, I'm not telling you to write more positively about WoT. I merely said I'm sad becouse I really enjoyed the first reviews, and they weren't too praising either. They were just texts I like to read about books, texts that explained throughtfully your feelings about the book. And a few quotes from the book to back your opinions. But now you just list those quotes with a few words of your own to back the badness of them. I quickly grow tired of that kind of reviews. Even horrible books can be reviewed well.

But remember, it's your blog and you don't have to publish anything if you don't want to. So I won't be coming there to throw bricks through your windows :) And I will absolutely resume to read your reviews.

And glad to hear my English wasn't completely buggy.

marco said...

Well, actually I have never read Jordan. I'm mostly here for the witty skewering.
I had hoped Adam could manage to reach the lofty heights of his Anathem review, but he's falling rather short.
However, my point about reading comics notwithstanding the ever diminishing returns in terms of enjoyment because something in the world continued to attract me still stands. And I can understand separating style and story TO A DEGREE, or being attracted by particular stories or themes to the point that I can forgive much bad writing, or not being particularly interested in others unless the language really sparkles.
I find it a bit strange that a self-confessed sci-fi fan cannot grasp the concept of reading books for reasons that have to do more with story/content/ideas than good prose. Not to mean that blah blah, but you get my drift.

Oh bummer, I was so sure you would say something weird in Finnish :P

Rovasti Huuskosen petomainen miespalvelija.

Granted, I've read it in translation...

Btw, The film Sauna should be good. It's a very slow psychological horror, and the people who reviewed it have very good taste.

Agony said...

Haven't really seen Sauna but it seems we Finns aren't so thrilled about it. At least those I know.

E.T.:"They, and you, *like* Jordan's style (or at least don't find it objectionable in any major way)"

Wrong, Jordan's style is far from my favourites and the story isn't so awesome compared to some other ones. It's the world I love, and it has less to do with the actual writing than the two others. Of course Jordan describes the world with his writing but I describe it in my head with my feelings, not from direct sentences in the book. And yes, the style gets occasionally in my way so I really see the badness in WoT.

Rovasti Huuskosen petomainen miespalvelija.

Now I'm glad again.

E.T. said...

So you're not exactly reading it, are you. I mean, I think what you're doing is playing Fill the Gaps, or Connect-the-dots, or something like that.

But it's not reading. Probably very similar to the way *I* myself read the series (described somewhere above) just before I got really, really tired of it.

Opal said...

glad to discover this blog, thank you Cara. Adam, you're so spot on re Jordan style and the mounting tedium. I'm in book 5 in a first reading. I've been truly spoiled by George R. R. Martin, who is a really fine writer. (I am avoiding reading your current review of Path of Daggers... spoilers 'n all that.) But I had to find out about WoT.