Monday, 22 July 2013

"You want it all but you can't have it."

So, I finished Erikson. And by finished I don't mean I took him round the back and finished him with a spade, no. What I mean is that I have read all ten volumes of The Malazan Book of the Fallen series that began with Gardens of The Moon and ended with The Crippled God. Each book pretty much weighs in around a thousand pages and the whole thing tops three million words. Finally, closure!

Yes and no. As you may be aware the Malazan books are also written by Ian Cameron Esslemont, who has authored several volumes so far with more forthcoming. While Erikson's epic is a whole story in itself, the universe he and Esslemont created is so vast that the stories it contains are going to require several more volumes. Adds to this the fact that Erikson also recently embarked on the prequel Malazan series, detailing the origins of Anomander Rake.
So while the saga of the Crippled God is done, Erikson and Esslemont are by no means done with the worlds they have created.

 I was drawn to the Malazan series with that elusive promise of closure. My friend and fellow gaming geek, Sam, had been talking about the books in glowing terms for ages. I had just finished A Feast For Crows by GRR Martin and was desperate to know when A Dance With Dragons was going to come out; a thing every other fan (and probably the publishers) were also desperate to know at the time. So, I made a rule then and there that if I were to read epic fantasy, I only wanted to start on a series when it was finished. The Crippled God had just been published and I was liking the sound of Erikson's works. Do I regret my decision? Not for one second.

But it got me thinking that the longer something goes on in fiction, the bigger the expectations of the audience for a huge pay-off at the end of the series. A big satisfactory ending that sends us away, clicking our heels and thinking that was the best thing ever! But such thinking seems to be a bit of a hostage to fortune. Consider the TV series Lost, where everybody was expecting the last episode to be some mind-blowing revelation and most were deeply disappointing. What appeared to be happening there was that the viewers thought that the writers had some grand plan from the beginning and weren't just exploring their world as they went. Again, for disappointing endings, or endings that invoke mixed reactions rather than outright praise, need we speak here of Battlestar Galactica?

But that's just it, very few writers are going to sit down and plan out their worlds and say, yup this is ten novels and it ends at this point here and I'm going to stick to that! Because you can plot all you want, when you actually get down to the actually writing the story will evolve in its own organic way, and if you try to cram it into a box, it's going to show. This is not to say that Erikson is the first fantasy writer in a while to give us an amazing sense of closure and a fully, realised cohesive world. As admirable and as brilliant as the series is, there's still a lot more I want to know. So, what Erikson has done is cure me of my unrealistic desire for closure when it comes to epic fantasy. The journey is as much a thing as the destination. The story is never done.


  1. I thought that BSG did an inspired job of resolution athletics, given the random narrative obstacle course that they had set themselves.

    Re Erikson's sprawling universe, the solution is simple: flash fiction.

  2. To my mind, the best stories will always outgrow their binding fiction - though in the case of a full series the narrative might pull for closure. Perhaps the simpler answer is to explore a world as Lovecraft did: a series of non-consecutive tales under the same mythos.