The Curse of Chalion, Part 2

This book really grew on me. I almost stopped reading it at about 20%, but pressed onward, and I’m glad I did, because I feel like I learned something important about writing from this book. When I got to about 35% I was hooked, and when I got to about 40% I was riveted. I won’t spoil it but if you’ve read the book you probably know the events that caused the riveting. The book has a lot of religious themes after the 40% mark which are really interesting.

I said I learned something important about writing, and that was: People that give advice on how to write aren’t always right. Or perhaps I should say: Successful authors don’t always follow the rules. I knew that before, but this book really exemplified it. Fully the first 1/3 of the book is a prologue or preamble or backstory. The "inciting incident" that propelled the main character past the point of no return didn’t occur until precisely the 37% mark. That is *completely* contrary to the "in-late, out-early" formula drilled into every new writer’s head. By conventional new-writer wisdom, the "inciting incident" should occur at approximately the 0% mark, or possibly even a negative percentage mark and told in flashback, because we are told that you only have a sentence or a paragraph or maybe — if you’re very lucky — a page or two to hook new readers. Bujold threw that advice completely out the window. And the book was published in 2001, so it’s not like it’s an old book from the 60s when people had more attention spans.

(Granted, she had several award-winning and -nominated novels under her belt prior to writing this one, so she already had a fan base that would read no matter what. New writers don’t have that luxery.)

The book felt extremely epic, yet it was written with only one POV, defying the notion that you have to write a dozen different POV characters to write epic fantasy.

Almost no time was spent on traveling, despite the fact that the main character changed settings several times. To me, this was amazing, because I find myself mired in "road trip" chapters all too often. It’s nice to see that you can just skip over a long journey if you need to.

Another thing I found amazing was that *there was no action in this book.* I mean, there were no sword fights, no chases, no dungeons, no wars, no rope-swinging, no fist-fights, no hanging from ledges by a fingernail, no nothing. Well, okay, there was a little bit of sword-fighting toward the end, but it was almost an after-thought. It was 99% medieval court politics and human relationships and religious philosophy, and yet somehow those topics which sound insufferably boring on the surface were made tense and exciting. And it was elegantly written to boot, with a wide variety of interesting grammar and vocabulary.

I feel like describing Curse as a "classy" book, as opposed to something like a Game of Thrones which I might be tempted to call "crass" by comparison. Those aren’t very good words, but hopefully you know what I mean.

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

I started reading The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold.

I started reading The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold … and this time, I actually *mean* reading, not listening to the audiobook. (There are people who insist that listening to an audiobook is the same as reading, but IMO they are very different media consumption experiences.) I picked it up because I saw that it was the next book in The Sword and Laser book club, so on impulse I got it. Not because I wanted to participate in The Sword and Laser, but because I’d wanted to read a Bujold book anyway because her name appears somewhat frequently on the Hugo award winner list.

Well, I’m now about 20% into this book, and I’m thinking about stopping. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with the book. It’s well-written and charming in its way, but I’m running into the same problem I have with a lot of books. I don’t know what the main character’s goal is. He doesn’t seem to have a mission. I really have a hard time getting into stories when the characters don’t have some kind of quest or conflict driving them.

Also, I believe this is the first book in a series, and I don’t really want to get into a long series that is just “okay.”

Well, well. I was looking up how many books were in the series and found it’s not really a series at all. It’s sequel is Paladin of Souls, which is a Hugo-award-winning book that I *do* want to read. So perhaps I will discard all of my biases and press onward. It’s a relatively fast read for a fantasy book anyway.

Latest Audibooks I’ve Listened To

I’ve been on an audiobook kick lately.

I’ve been on an audiobook kick lately. I realize it’s “cheating” to listen to a book instead of read it, but it’s just so darn convenient. You can actually accomplish other things simultaneously while listening to a book (like driving, washing dishes, playing games, paying bills, etc.), whereas if you read a book, it’s pretty much all you can do.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, read by Wil Wheaton. Great nostalgia book, although I could have lived without the cliche “real world is better than the virtual world” moral.

Hunted by Kevin Hearne, read by Luke Daniels. The latest in the Iron Druid Chronicles (#6 I think). Another highly entertaining episode from the life and times of Atticus O’Sullivan, this time covering his run across Europe while being chased by Roman and Greek hunting goddesses Diana and Artemis. This is the only “series” that I religiously keep up with. I like the IDC because Luke Daniels is an incredibly good reader, Hearne is a good story-teller, and the stories go into a lot of interesting mythology without being too cheesy. Also, it’s one of the few Urban Fantasy series that doesn’t focus on vampires and werewolves.

Redshirts by John Scalzi, read by Wil Wheaton. This book is awesome. I listened to the entire ~8 hours on a Saturday. I loved it because it’s the kind of thing I might have written, except I would have considered it way too absurd and silly for anyone but me to find it amusing. I also would have been too obsessed with trying to come up with a logical reason for *why* fictional characters would become sentient – Scalzi made no such attempt – they just are (or else the explanation is so obscure that I missed it). It’s a book that starts out being unabashedly comedic, then gets pretty serious and thought-provoking by the time the three codas come around.

Inferno by Dan Brown, read by Paul Michael. It showed up on the front page on Audible, so I got it with one of my credits. Whatever, so sue me. This book is pretty much exactly the same as every previous Robert Langdon book: He meets a woman and together they run from secret organizations and the government while decrypting puzzles. This time, the lessons are about Dante’s Inferno and excessive global population. Paul Michael is a good reader; it’s a lot more entertaining to listen to Dan Brown than to read it.

Game of Thrones Season 3

Okay I’m going to say it. Game of Thrones is getting a bit dull.

Game-Of-Thrones-Season-3-Episode-3-Poster-JamieOkay I’m going to say it. Or write it. Whatever. Game of Thrones is getting a bit dull. In the books, it’s fine to have twenty different storylines, because it’s an epic fantasy after all and you get to stay with the characters for at least a chapter before moving on, and they are usually long chapters.

In the television series, you get to spend roughly thirty seconds on each story in each episode, so it’s nearly impossible to form any kind of attachment with what’s going on. We see so little of Daenerys that I really don’t care what she’s doing over there in the desert anymore. Every time we see her, all she’s doing is whining about slaves. I almost wish they would devote each episode to one specific character’s story instead of trying to weave them all together.

Anyway, it just seems like the show has turned into a series of barely-connected vignettes between characters. Some of them are awesome, like the ones between Varys and Littlefinger. Some of them are tiresome, like any of the scenes with Sansa (I don’t feel nearly as sorry for her in the show as I did in the books).

Finished A Memory of Light

The Third Age is finally over.

The Third Age is finally over. I powered through books 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 all in a row, which has left me exhausted, yet exalted.

Say what you want about it, but you can’t deny that The Wheel of Time is EPIC. I quipped on Facebook that they should retire the category of “epic fantasy” after this because nobody else could possibly write anything as epic. I’m trying to think of anything I’ve read that had a similar scope. Lord of the Rings, obviously, but that was only three tiny, tiny books. The only other books I can think of (that I’ve read) that came close in terms of sheer immersion were Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and possibly The Sword of Shannara, which I remember as incredibly epic in scope, even though it was only one book, and I read it when I was a teenager.

Wheel of Time completely dwarfed those two in terms of sheer complexity. The Last Battle. Wow. It was pure shock and awe in terms of how all of the plots and factions and characters wove together. As an aspiring author, I now feel like a toddler playing with plastic blocks.

It was bittersweet to read the Epilogue. Knowing it was the late Robert Jordan’s words. The end of the series. The last time I’d be seeing these characters. Knowing there would be no more, even though you could sense that the aftermath could fill many more books. And there are many things to be discussed. But alas, no more questions, no more answers. I picked up this series late in life. I can’t imagine what the people who have literally been with these characters all their lives must feel.

Sanderson Takes Over

I’ve been trying to get through the Wheel of Time books before A Memory of Light comes out on January 8, and since I am now 20% finished with The Towers of Midnight, I think I can safely say that I am going to make it. Light! What a reading frenzy.

I was keenly interested to see what Brandon Sanderson would do with the series, and so far I’m quite pleased. I can definitely see the change in writing style (mainly in shorter sections and paragraphs and sentences), but I expected that. What I didn’t expect was the emotional impact that Sanderson brought to the series. Sanderson did something that Jordan never managed: He made me actually care about Rand for the first time since the first book. Rand’s been such an insufferable, stubbornly indecipherable butthead of a hero for so long that I frankly hoped the Dark One would win the Last Battle.

A huge increase in drama was achieved simply by actually having the characters interact with each other. When you think about it, so much of the Wheel of Time has been about the characters not interacting, and not explaining themselves, and not being forthright, and not trusting their peers. Everyone, good guys and bad, has had their own independent story going on, where they have their own plan, and they think everyone else is out to get them. That makes for some interesting points of view, conflict, and tension, but when it’s everyone and it goes on for book after book after book with no resolution, it gets a bit tedious. Of course, it might have nothing to do with Sanderson and might have been Jordan’s plan all along. You can see it starting to happen in Knife of Dreams.

Because of all the lack of communication and side plots and exposition, I haven’t really enjoyed Wheel of Time since The Shadow Rising, and the last good plot development I remember was Dumai’s Wells which I believe happened at the end of Lord of Chaos. I’ve merely been enduring the series since then.

At least until Knife of Dreams, Jordan’s last book, which was good. And now I can say that The Gathering Storm, Sanderon’s first book, is good, too. Were I to recommend the series to someone, however, I would say, "Read books 1-4, skim through books 5-6, then just skip to book 11."