The Runes of the Earth by Stephen R. Donaldson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
To abuse an overused cliche, when Donaldson burst onto the scene on 1977 with Thomas Covenant, this teen who had only Tolkien and the plagiarist Brooks, and the Chronicles turned the world on its ear. (Okay, many many years later, having read a part of an interview, I realize that Terry Brooks had no one but Tolkien as inspiration so it was natural that he emulate him) Those Chronicles were so different. And, then the Second Chronicles…then the Last. I’d read this when it came out in 2004, but remembered only a few things (the beginning and the ending.) I’d also read the next (and remember even less …just the ending), but never got past 47 words into the third. I intend to fix that in 2019 and finish the series, but I needed a refresher, so …
Fast forward ten years and 3,500 years from where he left off in White Gold Wielder, the evil that wants the destruction of the Land and everything is risen again in a new but familiar form, and it still has a foothold in the original world of Covenant. When the first of the Second Chronicles came out around the same time as Herbert’s God Emperor of Dune, they both imagined 4,000 years into a future from the familiar. Now, I was a huge Dune fan, but Donaldson did it far better. And he did it again with the Last Chronicles. This is a long set up. Really long. 500+ pages long. And that which was set up to be revealed at the end was a cliffhanger of epical aggravation. Good thing this time around the remaining novels have already been written and I don’t have to wait!
Donaldson has a skill rarely rivaled in using semi-obscure and sometimes really obscure technically correct but not archaic words. And he writes tomes! Sure Jordan and Eddings (and others) did as well, but they were definitely more somniferous and I couldn’t get into them. Donaldson makes it difficult not for the now and then thesaurus confirmation check but for a maddening central character. The inaction, whether from the unbelief of Covenant or the disbelief and later paralytic belief with Linden Avery, this reader for sure found himself more than once when young thinking, “Oh my god, what is wrong with you?!!” As an adult with 40 years maturity wadded on, thoughts tend more toward a sanitized “Just do it, damn it!”
These are not enjoyable reads. But that is not the same as enjoying reading them. They challenge the imagination. They challenge paradigms. There might be other writers who do this in the context of fantasy fiction, but Donaldson’s books are the ones I’ve chosen to read. They are dark and heavy, annoying and disconcerting, frustrating and yet satisfying, not enjoyable as I said but I enjoy reading them.
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Seventh Decimate by Stephen R. Donaldson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Is it fair to judge a book against another of an author? What about against an author’s body of work? It is a challenge to not do so with this one and Donaldson. I tried to get this through NetGalley a few months back, and my request was declined, but I was fortunate to be selected when this Advance Reader Copy became available through First to Read.
As to that judgment, Donaldson introduced me to his incredible imagination 40 years ago. His Covenant novels are rich, immediately so and all the way through (at least the ones I read…I have yet to tackle the last three; other attentions and all…), as was his Mordant pair. This one, is not. It seems under baked. His characters and descriptions are uncharacteristically raw. There are a number of throwaways, and it seems Donaldson didn’t want to invest any time in them before they were expended. I get that, but his Prince Bifalt is boorish with little redeeming him. Where Covenant’s flaws and anger had a backstory that a reader can identify with, I saw nothing in Bifalt that led me to understand him. Oh, he’s not hard to understand – flat, undeveloped, a blunt instrument. The thoughts that rush into his head are incongruous, inconsistent – well, they are consistently inconsistent – with rationality. I also felt the narrative to be uncharacteristically shallow, and predictable…that’s not something I’ve seen before in a Donaldson work.
I accept some fault in my perceptions – I am unused to reading such deliberately obtuse characters. I suppose there are more people than I know who really do think that way, but I wasn’t expecting such portrayals from Donaldson. It’s a departure, and one I expect I should adjust to.
I am grateful for the opportunity of the advance read, and will read the next when it comes out…I want to see where it goes.
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Eight years ago, there was a Facebook thing going around about 15 Books in 15 Minutes – write down within 15 minutes 15 books that have stuck with you. I saw it pass through my Memories and started thinking (I didn’t look at what I wrote back then…perhaps I’ll visit after I write this and see…) about what books I would choose, 2017 version. But I’m not playing the time limit, nor, apparently, the 15 limit. Here are books that have stuck with me – mostly fiction, and some background as to why. The first five are in preference order, the rest are sort of fungible…and this has been a chore to format…Wordpress seems to have a hard time with a lot of images, links and whatever… Continue reading
Posted in Books, Personal thoughts
Tagged Andy Weir, Christopher Stasheff, David Marquet, Dumbing Us Down, Fads and Fallacies, Four Lords of the Diamond, George Simpson, Ghost Boat, Harry Potter, Isaac Asimov, Ivanhoe Gambit, J.K. Rowling, Jack Chalker, James Loewen, James Morrow, John taylor Gatto, Lies My teacher Told Me, Lord Foul's Bane, Lord of the Rings, Magician, Martin Gardner, Maxwell Anderson, Midnight at the Well of Souls, Neil Burger, Only Begotten Daughter, Raymond Feist, Reluctant Sorceror, Simon Hawke, Stephen Donaldson, The Foundation, The Martian, The Quality Instinct, The Warlock in Spite of Himself, Thin Air, Thomas Covenant, time Wars, Tolkien, Turn the Ship Around, Well World, Wizard of 4th Street