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.And on a different thread David Moles and I had the following exchange:
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.
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.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:
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.
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 thenBeyond 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.
(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.
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.