Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lord of Chaos

Dreams and Speculation blog's Wheel of Time challenge: review of LoC.

Tor's Wheel of Time re-read and synopsis by Leigh Butler.

Sigh, what to say. I'm fully onboard with sci-fi author Adam Roberts' take on this series.

What I detest about the Wheel of Time series so far:

  1. I am not finding the characters to be interesting and compelling; rather I find them to be flawed creations that serve the plot. I detest when characters are stupid and dense merely to create plot tension, and that happens over and over. Mat could be interesting, Rand could be interesting, Perrin could be interesting... but they're mostly stupid. That's not fun to read, it's tiresome and condescending to readers. Feh.
  2. The BD/SM (bondage-discipline/sado-masochism) themes permeating the series -- what I'd call the dominance-submission theme, is repetitive and not insightfully handled. I expect works of literature to shed at least a small light on human nature, to create some catharsis, but that's asking too much from WoT, and I fear from the "epic fantasy" genre in general. The prurient naughtiness of the description of Egwene having her bare bottom spanked by the Wise Ones... words fail me, I want to say "wtf!?" The female characters are consumed with finding ways to dominate men (the one exception being Min, the tomboy.) Men, for the most part, are chumps about female wiles, except when Rand returns the favor, and the reader feels a cheap thrill of relief. Feh. 
  3. The good/evil theme? I'm still waiting for some development there.
  4. Finally, the writing style itself, which Roberts dwells on at length, is puffed up with circumlocutions, descriptions that add little or no insight into character or events, and repetitive characterizations (I've heard so much about Nynaeve yanking her braid that I expect her hair to fall out from the abuse.) I enjoy descriptions that create a vivid sense of place, when the place is important to the story (usually a major theme in sci-fi and fantasy), and some of these are quite good in WoT, but the way the character descriptions are handled spoils the effect. Really, if the author wanted sprightly plot turns and to go light on characterization, he should have used pungent, focused sentences, and shorten these books by 50%! Epic = bloat? Feh.

There's no question that The Wheel of Time is Lord of the Rings fan fiction; it has some of the same literary weaknesses (shallow characters, simplistic good/evil theme, bloated descriptions), and none of its strengths. Tolkien was an etymologist and professor of Anglo Saxon language, and LotR was Beowulf fan fiction, inspired by Anglo Saxon sagas. It's also notable that LotR is really "young adult" genre fiction, as is WoT. I thank Adam Roberts' correspondents for that insight which should have been obvious to me, except that I'm almost totally ignorant of the existence of "young adult" fiction. The reason for the WoT's popularity is its young adult target audience's proclivities and weaknesses. Seeing the world as a struggle between good and evil? Check. Not much insight into character and motivation? Check. Obsessed with issues of dominance/submission? Check. Really special people saving the world? Check. Mistaking wordy, bloated writing for profundity? Check.

I ask myself if I'm going to continue reading WoT, and why.

There isn't a lot of epic fantasy written for adults, is there; George R. R. Martin would appear to be the exception.

On public radio yesterday I heard a snippet of an interview with an author who wrote a book about the consequences of people living a lot longer... hundreds of years longer. I'm of the "this would be a disaster" camp (for spiritual, social, economic, and ecological reasons, which I won't elaborate here, as it would take me off-topic.) People (young people?) may have a misguided notion about wanting to be eternal, as if what they are and what the world is, is so wonderful, it should go on forever. I can't think of anything more ghastly. I'm bringing that up because once you stop being young, you can only be young again by forgetting and becoming as foolish and passionate as you used to be. I for one abhorred the suffering the youth, the narrow anxieties and obsessiveness. As we get older, most of us miss the "energy" of youth, but is that a really a confusion between "groundless and deluded optimism" and mere physical well-being. To push that idea further: is there really a distinction between these energies, or, does the body fail as the mind loses hope for fulfillment? Is not the losing of hope in fact the gate to the release from suffering we actually seek? I speak in Buddhist terms here.

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