Friday, 25 June 2010

Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time (1990-2005)


At last they rode over the downs and took the East Road, and then Merry and Pippin rode on to Buckland, and already they were singing again as they went. But Adam turned to Staines, and so came back, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within, and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rachel drew him in, and set him on his chair, and put little Daniel upon his lap. He drew a deep breath. 'Well, I read them,' he said.

Here are links to my eleven Wotreviews:

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 1: The Eye of the World (1990)

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 2; The Great Hunt (1990)

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 3: The Dragon Reborn (1991)

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 4: The Shadow Rising (1992)

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 5: The Fires of Heaven (1993)

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 6: Lord of Chaos (1994)

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 7: A Crown of Swords (1994)

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 8: The Path of Daggers (1998)

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 9: If On A Winter’s Heart A Traveller (2000)

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 10: Crossroads of Eclipsing New Moon Twilight (2003)

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 11: Knife of Dreams: If You Build It, They Will Come. And Stab You. (2005)

Below is a brief FAQ -- but first of all there's this important question: does anybody want a complete set of Robert Jordan Wheel of Time novels? Vols 7, 8 and 9 are in hardback, the rest in paperback, although (since I bought all these vols in thrift shops) they're none of them in pristine condition. Oh, and I didn't buy vol 10: I got that out of my local library. But that one volume aside, it's a complete set; and if you want it, and are willing to collect, it's yours.

Otherwise what have I learned? Well, mostly I was reminded of a line from Tibor Fischer's celebrated, or perhaps infamous, Telegraph review of Amis's Yellow Dog:
The way publishing works is that you go from not being published no matter how good you are, to being published no matter how bad you are.
I can't think of a clearer illustration of that baleful truth than these novels. The first is pretty good; the last are staggeringly, stupefyingly bad. Imagine an alternative universe in which Wheel of Time was never published, and in which I spent the last few months developing a cure for hepatocarcinoma instead of reading them. Now imagine a new writer approaching an editor at a major publishing house with the manuscript of Winter's Heart or Crossroads of Twilight. Now imagine the editor leaping upon this unpublished manuscript with cries of joy. But, see, that last one goes beyond what can be imagined by any sane person.

This, it seems to me, has a number of deplorable consequences. One is that, since the market becomes saturated by rubbishy fat volumes issued on the strength of the authors' long corroded reputation rather than any intrinsic merit, good books get crowded out. Yes I'm talking about you sir, and you madam, and the superlative but as yet unpublished Fantasy classic sitting on your hard-drive. The people who should be reading that are instead picking up Wotx. It's a shame for you. It's a bigger shame for them, even though they don't realise it.

I'm not suggesting that publishing is entirely a zero-sum operation, and that the choice is starkly between this rubbish late Wot book and your unpublished, fresh masterpiece. But I am suggesting that commercial publishing works within the horizons of finite bookshop shelfspace and finite reading time in customers' lives. And that, given this, it would be in everyone's interests to see more good books published and fewer bad ones.

The other consequence is even more insidious: good young writers, noting the commercial success of the series, conclude that this is how Fantasy must be written. Their writing becomes infected, their originality degraded, and a kind of malign self-perpetuaing miasma of rubbishness settles over the whole field.

Still, let me not grow cranky. Here's The FAQ.

---------

Will you be reading Brandon Sanderson's concluding three volumes? I will, though probably not for a little while.

Are you going to read the New Spring prequel? No. I'm reconciled to the thought that I shall go to my grave never having read the New Spring prequel.

From frequent commenter Miles: 'I'm trying to think of another long-running fantasy series I've read that Adam can take a whack at after he's done with WoT...' That's very kind of you. I'm touched. I will probably not be launching myself into tens of thousands of pages of Fantasy soon though.

You were supposed to be writing reviews, but all you did was slag Jordan off. This is a 'FAQ'. The Q stands for 'question'. This is a statement, not a question.

You clearly hated these books. Why did you persevere so long with them? You'll find the answer to this question here, starting about a third of the way down after the three little asterisks.

How do you explain the success of the series? Isn't it possible that you were missing something major? If the books are as bad as you say, how come they sold so well? This came up several times in the comments, and is clearly important. And, I agree: I can't argue with the series's success. Frankly I'm not sure why the books have done so well; although I'd hazard the later huge sales were more reflections of the previous books' huge sales than any actual merit in the novels themselves. But that still leaves to be explained the earlier books' huge sales. I'm not sure what the answer is. Here, I pondered thuswise:
There's something or things about this series has resulted not just in many people reading them, but a good number falling in love with them too. Not me, but I probably need to be more open to whatever this 'thing' or 'things' is/are. Part of me thinks it must have to do with the series sheer length; which by a sort of textual brute force can replicate the immersiveness a more skillful writer achieves through style, worldbuilding or character. The shift (as in Star Wars) into increasingly obviously sexualised territory can't have hurt either: I can imagine readers growing up reading the series.

Or, thinking a little more about this (and picking up on Larry's perceptive comment): by 'length' I suppose I mean more than just bulk of pages. I mean the immense accumulation of and attention to trivial details.

Put it this way: there's an interesting bifurcation in the 'market' (horrid term) for SF and Fantasy: on the one hand the texts themselves (as it might be: Lord of the Rings, Star Wars) which provide one sort of pleasure, and on the other immensely detailed and elongated fan encyclopedia-style anatomies and extensions of those texts: all the Star Wars novelisations, all the books of ships specs and timelines and whatnot. This latter body of writing appeals to a subset of broader fandom, those SFF fans who want to know every atom of the imagined world.

Now what's happening with WoT, it seems to me, is that after a conventional opening, the series is increasingly turning into a man-and-fly-in-the-matter-transporter-together mutant melding of these two modes of text. Each installment devotes a certain amount of energy to moving the story on, and much more to encyclopedically anatomizing world and character.
And on a different thread David Moles and I had the following exchange:
David Moles: The fans aren't fans of the books, they're fans of the Platonic WoT that's revealed, dimly, through the books ... It's not as though the pleasure provided by WoTworld is simple, or even that it's equally well-provided by a plethora of well-written books. You don't find that level of mechanical complexity very often outside of a role-playing supplement, and when you do it's likely (Donaldson, Feist) to be more or less equally badly written -- let's say, sufficiently badly written -- if not necessarily in the same way.

Adam Roberts: Hmm. I'm not sure that the books' currency is complexity, actually. There's a fetish for minutiae, true; but that's not the same thing. I'd say the appeal is something simpler: not just that this is a wishfulfilment world that is more colourful than ours; but that it combines an idealised nostalgic past with all present-day bourgeois creature-comforts, parlayed through honest-to-goodness melodramatic emotional intensity. Not that there's any shortage of imaginary Westworldesque themeparks in Fantasy more generally that do that, or stuff like it; although I daresay Jordan gains something from the Great Wall Of China, visible-from-the-moon scale of his undertaking.

David Moles: I'm not denying that it provides those pleasures, but I think you can't dismiss the trainspotting, stamp-collecting aspect either -- the sheer plethora of implied, distinct collectable figurines and playsets, the number of possible "which would win in a fight, X or Y?" matchups. I'm not sure there's anything in print fiction to match it.
Moles is a very clever man, and may have got close to the truth with this. And another very intelligent, perceptive man, Rich Puchalsky, developed an interesting trash-aesthetic argument:
The foremost anti-novel is Aldiss' Report on Probability A -- I have a post about it somewhere on my blog rpuchalsky.blogspot.com. It uses deliberately "bad" writing -- incessant overdescription of scenes -- in order to subvert the novel itself. Of course, Robert Jordan isn't doing it deliberately, but it can be amusing to read bad novels as if they are avant-grade, since they both share for different reasons a disinclination to write according to accepted standards.

The transformation of waste -- a phrase from a Patti Smith song, as noted in the most recent poem on my blog -- is what I think that literary SF is really about. SF is a lowbrow, pop genre, and literary values are highbrow values, so literary SF involves turning trash into gold. Some time a genius will perhaps write a little bit like Robert Jordan, but deliberately and subversively, and it could be a masterpiece.

That theory of literary SF seems pretty common, to me, among people whose touchstone is PKD. Stanislaw Lem wrote in my opinion some of the best criticism of PKD, and identified his technique as making things out of trash. And the perennial argument among certain literary-SF types is about PKD's sentences: Delany will be quoted to say that they're trashy, and other people will reply that they may be individually jagged, but they have to be that way to make up the whole.

Millions of people love these books. Do you really think you're 'better' than them? What gives you the right to be so rude? You realise that by criticising Jordan's books you're criticising these fans too? It is, clearly, a ticklish business telling people who 'really really love these novels' that I think the novels are crap. Here's what I wrote a while ago in another place:
So, let’s say, you read The Eyes of Argon and you love it; you’re gripped, thrilled, moved and inspired. Then you read a review that says ‘The Eyes of Argon is terribly bad stuff.’ Do you then

(a) say to yourself: a different opinion to mine, how interesting, let a thousand flowers bloom and a thousand schools of thought contend, one feature of great art is that it provokes a diversity of responses. Or

(b) say to yourself: the review, by calling this book crap, is saying that my taste in books is crap which is tantamount to calling me a big crappy crap-crap. Nobody calls me a big crap-crap and gets away with it. Where does this motherfucker get off calling people big crap-craps like this? Why can’t he keep his offensive opinions to himself?

But of course it goes without saying that reviewers respond to the book they have read, not to the idea in their heads of the sort of people who like the book they have just read. Apart from me, I mean. Obviously when I review, I do so specifically to mock the value-systems and worth of people who read. People like you, sir. And you madam.
Beyond that, we get into the broad territory of what ultimately grounds critical judgment. Properly discussing that would take more time than I have at my disposal. I was, though, terribly interested by the Jordan fan opinion, expressed in the comments, that Jordan was a better worldbuilder than Tolkien and a better stylist than Flaubert.

I'm interested in adapting all eleven of your reviews into a prog-rock opera. Is that OK? Go right ahead.

I must say I find it hard to believe that any of these are real 'questions', asked frequently or otherwise. Isn't it true that you just made them all up, now? It is.

31 comments:

Rich Puchalsky said...

A coda to the series, which happened yesterday.

Mike Taylor said...

I would pay good money to hear that prog-rock opera.

Provided that it really is based on your reviews of the books, and not the books themselves.

I know you're not looking to take on another multi-volume series of truly awful trash-fantasy any time soon, but if the mood should ever take you, I would love to know what you make of John Norman's endless series of Gor books, famously described by Jerry Pournelle as "both ethically horrifying and dull". For reasons that now elude me I read the first half-dozen or so of these many, many years ago. I still don't feel completely clean.

redrichie said...

I think I'm going to miss your WoT reviews. The move from mildly critical reviews (which even had some positive points!) to repeated skewerings is probably a metaphor for . . . something.

Also, perhaps we should all chip in for some kind of celebratory gold medal to be struck to present to Adam to recognise his magnificent achievement.

Miles said...

I'm going to miss them too, which is why I was hoping Adam might start on another skewer-worthy series. But I suppose I can only reasonably expect so much self-torture for my amusment on the part of a blog author.

Paul said...

I really enjoyed reading your critique of the WOT series. You should be proud of seeing through the series, that's a level of committment I could never have.

I have nothing profound to say about WOT and agree that those who have read all of the books and enjoyed many of them have the same mindset of those who without fail watch every episode of an average soap opera and enjoy it.
It's an addiction to escape to another world and loyalty to it is not held by the quality of the writing. There's a laziness to the addiction in being unable to break free and read/watch/do something better.
Worse if the addict genuinely believes they are reading/watching something 'great'. Few enjoy their loves being ripped into..

Larry said...

I see you've struck a nerve with some of the more die-hard WoT fans, Adam. How does it feel learning that you ought "to be burned at the stake"?

Some people take themselves a bit too seriously at times.

Ian Vance said...

Larry, you were really fanning the fires in that thread! I haven't laughed so hard in days!

Larry said...

It wasn't that I meant to start a huge fire over there, just a bit of conversation, but after a while, it ended up being repetitive. No sense discussing when others want arguing or confirmation.

What makes it even funnier is that although I dislike the latter volumes quite a bit, I did at least like a few elements of the series despite itself. But that's not good enough for some. I guess I didn't pass the purity test or something.

Ian Vance said...

Doesn't take much to fan those fires... just a little bit of dissenting opinion and cleverly placed smiley emoticons seems to do the trick.

I would love to see a by-the-blow review of Goodkind, but that really would be an enormous waste of Adam's time. (funny for us, but, well...)

jonathan said...

Interesting ride, Mr. Roberts, you made it further than I did; I started reading WoT back in the early 90s and read the books as they came out until I got to The Path of Daggers, which I couldn't finish. I haven't read any since.

With all due respect, I do think you are missing something, or maybe a few things. I haven't read every review you wrote of WoT, but it seems that part of your dislike has to do with "fat fantasies" in general, of which WoT is the most popular and well-known. As an aside, I am curious what you think of, say, Erikson or Martin Scott Bakker, etc, all of whom take different approaches.

More to the point, you tend to characterize the stereotypical WoT reader as inherently escapist and unhappy in the Real World (at their desk job), and living vicariously through the fantastical-sexual exploits of Rand al'Thor. There is probably something to this and it may be the case for many of its readers. But that is only part of it, even for the most escapist of WoT fans; my point being that your view is merely "seeing the pearl as the disease of the oyster." It isn't seeing the whole picture.

What is the other aspect? I think it has something to do with myth, wonder, and the pure experience of imaginative joy. Or, to put it into one word: Story.

The WoT is more popular than, say, John Crowley's Aegypt for many of the sames reasons that, I would imagine, Steven Spielberg movies are more popular than Andrei Tarkovsky movies. Film students may believe that Tarkovsky is superior, that Spielberg is mere "entertainment for the masses" but they would be missing something crucial, which is that Spielberg's movies are myths, they are pure stories unencumbered by intellectualism or self-conscious artistry (I don't mean to pick on Tarkovsky, who I love, but I use his name because he's relatively well-known and respected and a good pole to someone like Spielberg in terms of popular vs. artsy).

Spielberg movies are expertly crafted cinematic experiences. They may not be subtle or postmodern or avant garde, but they are (usually) great stories with compelling characters that people care about. Tarkovsky's movies are harder to penetrate; they express subtle observations of the human condition that would be lost on the majority of viewers. They are creme brulee to Speilberg's cookies and cream ice cream.

I am not saying that one is better than the other, although I think you could argue that Tarkovsky is "better" than Spielberg in one way or another and vice versa. Just as you could say that John Crowley is a much more sophisticated and nuanced writer than Robert Jordan, but Jordan tells a better rollicking good epic fantasy. But ultimately they are two very different worlds.

I honestly think that The Wheel of Time, at least up through the first five or six books, is one of the paramount epic fantasy series of the last few decades, that it holds a combination of factors that makes it enjoyable, evocative reading. Some of the faux pas of his writing style that you don't like are only noticeable to those that have the eye for it, but the vast majority of readers don't see them or if they do, they don't really care or let it get in the way of the strengths that the books do have. Those strengths, those combination of factors that make up the huge epic fantasy that is The Wheel of Time, may not be to your liking--and that is just fine--but they are to the liking of hundreds of thousands of readers, at least some of whom have discriminating, literary sensibilities and still eagerly await the next volume in the series.

Why is that? I touched on a few elements, with words like story and myth and imagination, but it is worth further inquiry because it is why, I think, many folks ultimately prefer fantasy over mimetic literature. And, again, it isn't simply about escapism, or at least "escapism" is the overly pejorative shadow aspect of a much larger creature.

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

But Spielberg is GOOD at what he does, by any standard. You can criticize a Spielberg movie, but not on the grounds that it's incompetent film-making. That would seem to be where this parallel breaks down.

jonathan said...

Yeah, I agree, but I think Jordan was good at what he did, at least for the first five or six books. Things started falling apart around book six or seven, mainly because he--or so I would surmise--started writing to extend the series for the paycheck.

But again, one of my main points is that of the hundreds of thousands of WoT readers, not all of them are "illiterati." At least some of them have fine literary and aesthetic sensibilities and they are still hooked on the WoT. Now you could say that any genius can be addicted to donuts or crack, but I don't think it is quite the same thing. That is what I'm trying to get at--that the joy that people derive from the WoT isn't the same as the joy one derives from eating donuts or watching Grey's Anatomy or reading Twilight (yowza!). It is something...mythic.

(And yeah, I know you could say the same about Twilight...maybe I'm just sick of vamps...so I'll take that back).

Rich Puchalsky said...

jonathan, I don't think that you're really reading what Adam wrote. Instead, you're arguing with someone from your imagination. Here's what Adam wrote in this post: "The first is pretty good; the last are staggeringly, stupefyingly bad." And the FAQ addresses the question of why people like the books and does not talk about people living vicariously through fantastical-sexual episodes. Adam's explanation involves a sort of merger of the reader's urge to read a story with the fan's urge to encyclopediacally characterize and extend.

Now, I -- unlike Adam -- do think that there's a lot about vicarious fantastical-sexual episodes in there. But I can't bring that discussion forward any further until you stop arguing with people in your head and start reading what people write. Until that happens, I can't write anything that won't be responded to as if it were boilerplate, imagined high-art disdain.

The use of "illiterati" being a case in point. I don't know what country you're from, but in the U.S., where I am, it's a small minority of the population that would read any kind of fiction, especially of this length. Just the fact that someone is reading books for pleasure is enough to not make them "illiterati" in this society. That being so, there really isn't the societal space to preserve a group of people who read only literary, high-culture SF and who do not at least sometimes read whatever fantasy potboiler is current. The imagined group of people who are so far away from all that that they can be literati who never read this kind of thing just don't exist as a group.

Desk Jockey said...

Man, these are some great reviews. In which volume does Rand end up in the desert? I think I was reading that volume when I abandoned the Wheel of Time and apparently it kept turning and turning and turning and turning....

jonathan said...

Rich, I don't think it is "arguing with someone in my imagination" to say that Adam sees WoT in a largely negative light. Or rather, it is certainly arguing with someone in my imagination, but that is how I am perceiving (in my imagination) the overall gist of Adam’s perspective on WoT. This statement from his The Path of Daggers review is pretty clear on this:

“...it is all terribly written. I don’t just mean the style, although the style is awful. I mean the whole kit-and-kaboodle: the overall structure, and the narrative, the pacing and focalisation, the characterisation, the dialogue, the tone. All of it.”

How much clearer can he get? Furthermore, he seems unable or unwilling to translate the WoT’s sustained popularity into any kind of positive merits that the series might actually have, beyond relatively un-meritous qualities like “immense accumulation of and attention to trivial details” and the success of previous books.

How, again, am I not reading what Adam is actually writing? As I said, I haven’t read the entirety of his reviews—I read this blog entry and scanned one or two others—so it may be that in other places he sings the praises of WoT, but it is hard to refute the one-sidedness of the above quote.

That same review also has this quote, which addresses your point about Adam not accusing people of living vicariously through Rand’s sexual exploits:

“I get that for many people the deal is escape. Leave your worries behind; you enter this better world. It’s a world in which you don’t work in the accounts department of a mid-size educational supplies firm; where, instead, you live in a palace and command servants and have magic powers and enjoy exciting sex with beautiful people…”

Again, that’s pretty clear.

As for my use of the term "illiterati," I think it goes without saying that within any field of art there is a wide spectrum of knowledge about said field. In terms of fantasy and sf, there are those that have read Tolkien, Rowling, some Brooks, maybe a dash of Eddings and a dab of Jordan. And then there are those who have read Wolfe, Crowley, Zindell, Harrison, and some character named Roberts ;-). There are those that know of The Clute and those that do not. Etc. I have no idea how many folks have read Jordan vs., say, Crowley, but my point was to distinguish between “serious” and “casual” fans of fantasy--as two ends of a spectrum--and to point out that not all "serious" fans think Jordan is trash (or, if they do, they still like it).

Rich Puchalsky said...

jonathan, it's not inaccurate to say that Adam has described the series in a largely negative light, but that's not what you wrote previously. It was "More to the point, you tend to characterize the stereotypical WoT reader as [...]" Reader characterization really was not a large part of this series of reviews.

But I'll try to respond to what I think you're writing. First of all, there just is not some critical responsibility to "translate [a work's] sustained popularity into any kind of positive merits that the series might actually have". All sorts of works are popular. It's a degraded sort of criticism that looks at a popular work and says "Why is it popular? There has to be something." That's a book reviewer's sort of criticism, not a critic's.

And literary quality isn't just "liking", whether one likes a particular book or type of book or not. There are all sorts of books that I personally don't like that I can nevertheless recognize as having literary quality. And anyone can, really, or at least, a majority of people who like to read literature can. I can't go, in a comment box, into what makes up literary quality, but at its lowest level it includes technique. And the technique of the sentences on display in these reviews is just bad. There is no way in which one can make them good.

Against that you put Story. Well... there's technique in narrative as well. From Adam's description, that is also just not there. The shape of the story is neither classically formed nor experimentally deformed in some way, but just dragged out.

Perhaps it's the content of the Story? But that seems quite ordinary. You have heroes, villains, a fantasy world similar to many precursors. You have a lot of worldbuilding.

Using Occam's Razor ... well, the most popular genre is porn, after all, but you get no *story* as such in porn. The second most popular genre is probably romance novels, in which a certain form of sexuality is plunked into the middle of a certain kind of story, stories which their readers really like. Is WoT any more than that? I think it's up to some other critic to make the affirmative case, if that's what they really think.

But even if they do make the affirmative case, they can't just ignore the BDSM overtones. If you just Google for WoT quotes, they're there, there are what people evidently have taken from the book. Lots of things about "kneel or you will be knelt", etc. A real critical defense of WoT has to be conscious of that, has to work in into why the series is good, somehow. And, as other people writing here have said, the series just doesn't seem ironic enough for that, knowing enough.

Noah said...

Adam Roberts, I doff my hat to thee. Thou art one seriously funny motherfucker.

Next, can we have you take on something British? Maybe Iain M. Banks' "Culture" books, or Peter F. Hamilton's "Night's Dawn"...

jonathan said...

Rich, I'm honestly mixed on this as I have to admit that I feel much the same about Harry Potter or Twilight as you and Adam seem to feel about WoT. I do recognize the subjective element but also can't help but think that they are far lesser fantasies than Tolkien, Le Guin, McKillip, and even Jordan. But people love them anyways and no matter how much I think it has to do with the "junk food factor," there is something to those stories that is reaching people.

But that in itself is an interesting question: why do people love Harry Potter and Twilight so much? It isn't a simple answer and I wouldn't reduce it to just negatives.

Back to your post, I was saying that Adam sees the WoT in a negative light AND he tends to characterize its readership as a kind of escapist stereotype, at the very least in the quote that I offered. But you make it sound like in my original post I was only speaking of his characterization when I was mainly using that as a way to set up the question of: What do these fans see in WoT beyond the escapist qualities that Roberts emphasized?

I understand he's not out to get WoT fans or that he sees them as inherently awful or stupid people, at least not consciously. But my point, which I think you are either missing or evading, is that of the hundreds of thousands of WoT fans, at least some of them have "literary sensibilities" and still manage to enjoy the series. Why is that? That is the question that, I think, Mr Roberts hasn't answered adequately without reducing it to something negative or escapist. And, perhaps, myself in relation to Harry Potter and Twilight.

You misunderstand what I mean by "Story." Certainly, narrative structure is relevant but it is not what I'm talking about. And it isn't the contents in and of themselves, either. It is the uber-myth, the world and story that makes up the entirety of the WoT. For whatever reason--and undoubtedly for various reasons--hundreds of thousands of people, including many intelligent individuals, love the WoT. They are able to bypass their literary rationalism and enjoy the story itself.

I honestly don't have an answer to this, as I am personally mixed on the WoT. But I think it has to do with a combination of factors that, when added together, are more than the sum of their parts. But if we look only at the parts and weigh them each individually we miss the totality, which is what I think both you and, to some extent, Mr Roberts, have done.

I would say that a key to this, I think, is that fantasy--or at least "good fantasy"--is best approached imaginatively rather than rationally. It is myth, not history, symbol not metaphor.

asdas said...

成熟,就是有能力適應生活中的模糊。.................................................................

靜宸 said...

人生是故事的創造與遺忘。............................................................

John The Bookworm said...

Adam, thank you for writing an honest to goodness take on this series. I've had countless people recommend it to me, and I no longer feel bad for reading ten pages and immediately feeling that dreadful sense of foreboding that comes with a series that seems to only get progressively worse.

What really strikes me, though, is your particular comparisons to WoT as a YA book in an adult packaging. As a teenager and an avid reader of YA, I am offended yet completely understanding.

To make it clearer, I find it offensive that you would even CONSIDER this series' plot to be of a YA caliber. The best YA books, like the best fantasy books, are amazing at being both completely unique yet still grounded by the work of their predecessors. I'm not going to mention the obvious series here that works for that, but authors such as Jane Yolen and T.A.Barron have proved just how alive it is. And how original it can be.

Frankly, I could tell right away that Jordan would not be an author worth exploring. Reading so much YA, I've begun to read more closely into action and character, as YA is a genre that needs to be quick and exciting; teenagers have short attention spans that won't want to deal with a whole bunch of padding. Jordan's work, to me, transcends any type of 'age' genre. It is not MG or YA or Adult. It is something else entirely. Maybe an immortal genre, for I think only someone who lives forever could have the patience to read this amount of dribble and horrendous writing.

Terry Goodkind, for those that have mentioned him, is not much better. I got maybe two hundred pages in The Sword of Truth before finding it had the same affect. Considering how preachy and annoying the later volumes are said to be, that is another series I am glad to leave abandoned.

You should read more current YA fantasy. While I can't say it has the same aura that adult fantasy does, you will find it brimming with creativity and a lot more sexual explicitness than WoT. Between that series and the current YA market, it seems very clear that the teenage years are the bunny years. -_- I will go with a serious recommendation for the author Kristen Cashore, who writes excellent YA fantasy via her books Graceling and Fire.

On a lighter note, I'd like to see you tackle Terry Brooks and his many, many fantasy books. The only good thing I hear about them is that they are all fairly average. Thank you for a great way to waste time, and the affirmation that reading Jordan would have been a truly painful experience for me.

Darron said...

Maybe some others have had similar experiences to my own with WOT, and this may shed some light on why people keep reading.

Basically, I started reading fantasy, like many, with The Hobbit & LOTR as a pre-teen in the early 90's. As a somewhat introverted boy, I loved being transported to this imaginary world. I quickly moved on to a bunch of Dragonlance books, and R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt books before a friend turned me on to WOT around the age of 15. To say I was completely amazed is an understatement.

I read Lord of Chaos sometime during my freshman year, and was so excited by the ending. Rand's power was finally demonstrated, the Aes Sedai would be brought to heel, or so I thought.

I remember waiting what seemed like an interminable amount of time for Book 7, and reading it in a day or so, and being so disappointed that the plot slowed down so much, and any momentum I felt at the end of Book 6 was destroyed.

At the same time, I was actually getting older and more experienced. I began to realize that the books were pretty crappy, but the urge to just see what was going to happen has kept me reading.

I'm now 32, and 17 years have passed since I started reading WOT. I tried to re-read the series before the Sanderson's Book 12 came out. I barely made it through book 1, and stopped about 100 pages into book 2. I can't stand the way Jordan writes female characters, and even worse is his depiction of male/female relationships. Having been married to an amazing woman for the past 6 years, I truly feel sorry for anybody who thinks that the extremely stale stereotypes portrayed in these books, in any way resemble real life. Every man in these books thinks that their respective women need constant saving, and every woman thinks their respective man is an idiot who constantly needs to be kept from falling all over himself. If the women in my life acted in any way like the women in these books, my life would be miserable. The other infuriating thing is that the main characters (Rand, Egwene, Matt, Perrin) NEVER interact, and they constantly misunderstand what the others are doing. WHY DON'T THEY EVER OPEN A GATEWAY AND TALK TO EACH OTHER!

Anyway, I read the Sanderson book, and it was okay. I have basically been spending about 3 days every 2 years with the wheel of time since 1998, and I'm willing to continue and see the series out just to see how it ends.

Darron said...

I started when I was 15, and realized the books were crap when I was around 21, but was too invested in the story to give up. Now I'm 32, and still reading. I invest 3 days every 2 years to see what's going to happen. Rereads have been impossible, because Jordan is one of the worst writers of female characters in the history of literature. His idea of a strong female character is basically a bitch, and his male/female relationships are infuriating. Only a teenage boy could possibly find this in any way amusing, and how women read these books is beyond me.

So I realize the books are crap, but am a sucker for wanting to see how the story ends. I will never recommend these books to anybody though.

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Thundergills said...

hey,
just finished the first WOT out of a grab bag from a thrift store, and I am finding this thread hilarious... I had a tip from a new acquaintence that it was going to turn into something amazing, and, quite frankly, was about to give up on myself if a helicopter gunner could outwrite me... From the first book, yeah, I could see how the wimmens was bitchy, but the tinker culture implied that there were people who valued kindness above all, so I thought maybe the females were all just fried from living in a world destroyed by specialised masculine arcanity. A worthy accusation, if WOT 1 was a setup for a slam dunk, which, it sounds like it ain't. Can Lem do women? PKD? It's not a crime in my book if your witches are so mysterious as to be unmemorable, that's the price we pay for the effin' ineffable. I grew up and realised that Carrie Fischer was ten times the babe Princess Leia was! Can you imagine Princess Leia in The Blues Brothers?

You all rule!

FelicityGS said...

I just wanted to congratulate you on this, years after it was written. I can at least offer up the idea that maybe (as was my case) I was more excited about the characters than I was the writing. I started reading the books around 5th or 6th grade, and blew through all that were out at the time; I stopped reading once it was shown Lan wasn't dead--he was the only reason I kept reading actually. I had a girl-crush on him. I know I spent a good deal of the books skipping over details and the like. But as soon as Lan showed up from not death I set the books down and never read them again.

But my family kept giving them to me for birthdays and Christmases. :(

I even tried to reread them and the bad writing just made me blow a gasket and wonder how I had ever read them before. Right, I was a dumb kid. Hah.

Kdansky said...

I would like to see a similar beating administered to Trudi Canavan's "The Black Magician" or Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Both seem liked quite a bit and sell well, especially the latter. I could not even get through a single volume while on the plane before putting it down. I am not a native English speaker, but both are ripe with cringe-worthy sentences, shallow characters and blatantly ripped off plots.

Brian Ward said...

I decided to listen to this series in audiobook flavour, which has its own pros and cons.

One of the cons is, for this series, a pro: the ability to multitask. If I had to sit down and devote looking-at-words-on-a-paper time to it, I'm certain I wouldn't have made it to book two.

The way Jordan wrote women was infuriating, almost every one of them was objectively powerful, and yet they were almost all amazingly petty, and resentful of men.

The way he wrote relationships was just dreadful, and his world simpy doesn't make any sense - in a world where women have powerful magic that is, until the end of an age, unavailable to men, one would expect women to be something other than the shrinking violets or angry man-hating bitches they are depicted as.

The worst may have been the writer's tics:

Please, keep me up to date on the smoothing, gathering, clutching, straightening and otherwise fussing with skirts as often as possible. Please remind me that these skirts are divided for riding every other page.

Please give all of your characters telltale nervous habits that they repeat incessantly; braids can simply not be tugged, jerked, pulled and gripped quite enough!

X wishing he knew as much about girls as Y, Y wishing he knew as much about girls as Z, and Z wishing he knew as much about girls as X? That never gets old. Please, use it more frequently!

If you're going to invent a new style of blasphemy and cursing, you have to realize that in the English speaking world, you are competing with an astonishingly rich variety of choices, modes, and functions. "Blood and bloody ashes" and using the word "bloody" as an expletive 50 times a chapter? Yeah, that's a good substitute for the rich heritage of obscenity. The light burn him!

Please tell me if any given smile reaches the person's eyes. Do this often, it never ceases being clever.

And finally, be sure to fold your arms under your breasts, and sniff and snort a lot like little pigs searching for truffles. Because I like truffles.

I started with the prequel and I'm on book 10 now. I cannot wait to get the audio portion of my life back. I started this series because I was aware of how devoted its fans are, and now I'm only finishing it because I'm curious as to how much worse it can actually get, and whether the new non-Jordan books end up making the case that he should have been paying a ghost writer for decades.

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EMOD said...

I started as a fan. A few years ago now but not from the start. I think when I found WoT there were already 5 or 6 out there. I went through them all until Mr. Jordans Passing.

I looked forward to a ending, but I didn't realize that my mileage with WoT was just about up. I waited until all 3 final books were done (to give myself a little breathing space). Then in a fantasy orgy I decided to start at the beginning and digest the whole pile. I have gone though many other long series multiple times. As a fan of historical fiction I still enjoy all the works of Patrick O'Brien and Bernard Cornwell.

I couldn't make it..

By 5 books in I realized that I had reached the age where I just don't have the tolerance for having my time wasted any more. The middle books were just that. Famous author syndrome. 250,000 words and the story doesn't advance an inch, but we add ANOTHER novel. I just can't do it... I can't finish! It's just way toooo much fat on my meat. Useless fat!! I don't care about the pilfering from other writers and his curious relationship with 'women', etc.. So what? Everything is a rip off of something else these days. The sheer amount of time spent on endless and useless side tracks was starting to wear on my patience to a point where I found myself starting to dislike the 'heroes' of the story!

It was something I didn't realize my first time through the books but goodness it was exceptionally tough going the 2nd time. In the end it beat me. I went from a proud fan to one who's not sure if he wants these books taking up space on my limited shelf. *sigh*

In the end I think this should have been what Jordan originally planned it to be, a good meaty 6 volume series. That's what he owed us. It is NOT what was delivered. I feel a little betrayed as a fan and feel more than a little abused that my fandom was used simply to put another check in his pocket. It only deteriorated with his death! I was shocked, angered and finally ashamed of his 'wife' and that bottom line, the fans be damned, mentality with the delayed release of the ebooks to maximise the sales of the hard-cover books. It's the final wrong in a series of wrongs.

It started so high, and ended so low.

Never did buy book 13, and only read the online synopsis of 14, which in itself was enough to make be glad I didn't try and plow all the way through again.

No other author in history has drawn me in, then pushed me away as much as Mr. Jordan and these books.

There is no WoT section on my shelf today. I'm sad for that since I had kept a space for these books. Kept it for a decade too.

What a waste.