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Worlds Without End Blog

Guest Post: Oathbringer Review Posted at 9:28 AM by Craig Hanks

Craig Hanks

This ​guest post by Craig Hanks ​originally appeared at ​The​Legendarium​Podcast.com​ ​​and is reprinted here with permission. The Legendarium Podcast is a must for any Sanderson fan — these guys are the experts —  and they cover many other epic fantasy staples including Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time, and Shannara. You can subscribe to The Legendarium on iTunes.


A note on spoilers. In this review, I’m not going to spoil any major reveals. But a few general plot points are fair game here. So if you’re hoping to go into your reading of Oathbringer 100% fresh (not a bad call, since impeccable story structure and Roshar-shattering reveals are Sanderson hallmarks), turn back now. If you’re just looking for a little pre-game commentary, though, then read on.


Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

 

“Your words are not that special, Brandon Sanderson.”

So said my wife after I congratulated myself on finishing one-third — 400 pages — of Oathbringer, the third of Sanderson’s mammoth Stormlight Archive series. Even for someone of my fantasy-oriented literary proclivities, this book is a monster. Ten-point type scrunched between barely-there margins, filling 1,250 pages? To the uninitiated, this appears as an act of extreme hubris. I assure you it is not.

It’s not hubris but deserved confidence that has driven Sanderson to write over a million words across three volumes of The Stormlight Archive so far. It’s the confidence of someone who is in full command of his prose and, more importantly, his worldbuilding. His words are great, but it’s his worlds that command attention. More on that in a bit; let’s talk Oathbringer specifically for a moment.

 

 

Listen to the spoiler-free review episode here:

The story still focuses on our three main characters: Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar. Where The Way of Kings revealed Kaladin’s back story and Words of Radiance did the same for Shallan, Oathbringer belongs to Dalinar. The title in this case refers not only to a book-within-the-book, as previously, but also to Dalinar’s mystical sword, or shardblade. Flashbacks show us Dalinar in his prime, wielding Oathbringer to devastating effect across the kingdom he is working to unite by force.

But the most impactful portions of the flashbacks are reserved for Dalinar’s relationship with his wife, memories of whom were apparently so painful that Dalinar had them magically excised from his mind. Learning what drove Dalinar to such drastic action makes for some of the most gut-wrenching scenes in Sanderson’s entire œuvre.

While the book focuses its flashbacks on Dalinar, fans of our other heroes need not worry; we spend plenty of time with both Kaladin and Shallan. Kaladin spends a good portion of Oathbringer learning that fulfilling his Windrunner oaths (“I will protect those who cannot protect themselves” / “I will protect even those I hate, so long as it is right”) requires actions that are not always easily justified.

The Way of Kings by Brandon SandersonMeanwhile, Shallan is faced with the same dilemma as Vin, the heroine of the Mistborn trilogy: she must decide which of her personae is the true one. The more literal nature of Shallan’s journey toward self-understanding is a result of the magic systems peculiar to Roshar and Shallan in particular.

Oh, and praise the Stormfather, the love triangle between Shallan, Kaladin, and Dalinar’s son Adolin that started in book two is resolved here in a way that is at once unexpected, sensible, and satisfying. Which is for the best, since the series at large could easily have been bogged down by a bunch of unnecessary — and surely angsty — YA-style emotional handwringing.

Time must be taken here — because damned if plenty of time wasn’t taken in the first half of the book — to mention secondary and tertiary characters, of which there are legion. Fan favorites are either completely absent (Eshonai) or cruelly underused (Rock, Lopen), while others are unexpectedly given substantial page counts (Teft, Moash). Depending on your appetites, this will either be a boon or a curse. I’m still undecided.

Ultimately though, Oathbringer, while clocking in at an eye-popping 391,840 words, manages to be the tightest of the three Stormlight books in terms of character scope, especially in the last half. As with The Way of Kings, there comes a tipping point somewhere around halfway through the book where the setups beget payoffs, which come faster and faster until the final pages. If you’d asked me at page 500 whether Oathbringer is a page-turner, I’d have said no. By page 800, though, it was a firm yes.

Words of Radiance by Brandon SandersonIt’s not all roses, of course. As I’ve alluded to a few times already, this book is just plain long. While many high fantasy aficionados are ready and willing to dive into 1,000+ pages, such hefty word counts make The Stormlight Archives difficult to recommend to newcomers. If it’s true — as many Sanderson fans say — that this is his best series to date, then it’s a shame that it’s so difficult to recommend to anyone who isn’t yet on the Brandon train. Entry-level material this is not.

Another barrier to entry is Oathbringer’s dependency on Sanderson’s other work. To fully appreciate the characters and events of this book, it’s necessary not only to have read, but to remember fairly well several of his other “cosmere” books, especially Warbreaker, the Mistborn series, and Elantris.

Thankfully, these crossover moments are written in such a way that you won’t be slowed too much in your reading if you’re not familiar with these other books. But if you’re not up to speed with those stories, then you’ll likely be scratching your head at the end of Oathbringer, trying to figure out why certain characters and objects were so prominent. To a newcomer to Sanderson’s cosmere, this stuff will feel like so much bloat in an already massive book.

Back to those possibly-not-that-special words. There’s a tendency among Sanderson’s detractors, and even those who simply prefer other authors, to point to his prose style as lacking in some respect. The most common complaint I hear is something along the lines of, “It’s just so … utilitarian.”

Brandon SandersonBut this is precisely what I, and millions of others, enjoy. And Sanderson’s prosaic prowess is on full display in Oathbringer. “In the best prose,” as Arthur Clutton-Brock put it in his essay The Cardinal Virtue of Prose, “we are so led on as we read, that we do not stop to applaud the writer, nor do we stop to question him.” Indeed, rarely does Sanderson puncture the fourth wall of the narrative with a poetic flourish, drawing attention to himself rather than the story at hand. His discipline helps to make this a story in which you can — and should, and will — become blissfully lost.

But why bother to get lost at all if the place you’re losing yourself isn’t worthwhile? Here we come to Sanderson’s true genius: creating compelling, instructive worlds and peopling them with compelling, instructive characters. And when it comes to his worlds, the rule is simple: worse is better. Sanderson’s M.O. seems to be to create the most vivid, dark, smelly, miserable, unstable locations he can think of, then set loose a cast of characters and see how they react. The now-classic example is that of Vin and Elend, Mistborn’s protagonists, wading hip-deep through never-ending volcanic ash toward the literal end of the world. “Bleak” doesn’t begin to cover it.

The world of The Stormlight Archive, like that of Mistborn, seems like a miserable place to be. A good portion of Sanderson’s magic comes in making you want to be there anyway, for as long as you can. Such is the case with Oathbringer. If my chief complaint with the book is its length, then next in line is that I can’t spend another thousand pages on Roshar.

“Your words are not that special, Brandon Sanderson.” That’s up for debate, I suppose, though I know where I’d come down. What’s not up for debate is that Sanderson’s worlds are indeed that special.

DEADPOOL 2 Official Teaser Trailer #2 Posted at 2:52 PM by Dave Post

Dave Post

This is equal parts weird and hilarious. Looking forward to this one.

Should Science Fiction Be Rational? Posted at 8:00 AM by James Wallace Harris

jwharris28

In the book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen catalogs countless ways in which America is irrational. Andersen is an admirer of Philip K. Dick, and quotes/mentions him more than once, including one very long passage where Andersen says he couldn’t explain things better than PKD. However, Andersen connects science fiction several times to irrational thinking, and sometimes I get the feeling he thinks science fiction is a catch-phrase for nutty ideas.

Here’s one quote, “Like so much pseudoscience, mesmerism was faulty science fiction, a fantasy inspired by a misunderstood bit of reality” – is Andersen defining science fiction as fantasy literature that misunderstands reality?

The last science fiction novel I read was Chocky by John Wyndham. Its premise is telepathy exists and works instantaneously across the vast distances of space. Wyndham in his story proposes that matter is limited to the speed of light but not mind, and thought has no speed limit. Chocky is a far distant alien that possesses a 12-year-old British boy. Of course, this idea is descended from Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon. I consider alien mind travel a fun meme for fantasy stories, but the philosophical disciples of Shirley MacLaine would testify under oath that’s how reality actually works.

Here’s another quote, where he talks about L. Ron Hubbard:

“Hubbard had a brazen indifference to the line between nonfiction and fiction—specifically science fiction, and not just e-meters. Scientology’s theological backstory is staggeringly ridiculous sci-fi, 2001 meets Star Trek meets Star Wars meets The Matrix meets Prometheus. In short, each of us contains a thetan, one of the ethereal beings who created the universe but each of whom, after being shipped to Earth and hit with nuclear bombs by the evil dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, was brainwashed to forget its godlike origins and believe in the false reality most people consider real.”

You have to admit that Scientology is whacked, but then so are the ideas in those TV shows and movies. We think of them as fun. Andersen claims 2/3rds of our society think of them as gospel.

Fantasyland is a book everyone should read because it defines our times better than any book I’ve read in the 21st-century. However, as science fiction fans we need to ask ourselves some very serious questions. Andersen makes an overwhelming case that America has become irrational with about two-thirds of its citizens rejecting science and rational thought. How much has science fiction contributed to the emerging paradigm of believing anything is possible because believing is what powers our reality?

If you don’t think this is true, then I plead for you to read Fantasyland. It is the Future Shock of this generation. To show I’m not holier than thou, I wrote “22 Dumb Fantasies I’ve Tried to Believe” at my blog. I’ve since realized I could have easily doubled or tripled that number.

Science fiction is as tainted as New Age philosophies when it comes to pseudo-science. Cleaning up the genre will be just as hard as convincing society at large to think scientifically. I doubt it’s even possible. But shouldn’t we try? Should science fiction take a position in the current war of the irrational on the rational? If you think that last sentence is hyperbole, then read Fantasyland.

 

2017 World Fantasy Awards Winner! Posted at 9:22 PM by Dave Post

Dave Post

The 2017 World Fantasy Awards winners have been announced. The awards were presented during the  World Fantasy Convention, held November 2-5, 2017 at the Wyndham Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX. In the Best Novel category the winner is:

The Sudden Appearance of Hope

WINNER:

FINALISTS:

Our congrats to Claire North and all the finalists. You can see the complete list of winners in all categories over at Locus.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Trailer (Official) Posted at 9:40 PM by Dave Post

Dave Post

As always, the trailer looks good….

KNIGHTFALL Official Trailer Posted at 11:50 AM by Dave Post

Dave Post

This looks really really good to me. Definitely one to watch.

Expanded Universe by Robert A. Heinlein Narrated Bronson Pinchot Posted at 8:27 AM by James Wallace Harris

jwharris28

Bronson Pinchot does such a fantastic job narrating Heinlein’s old book Expanded Universe (now reprinted in two volumes) that I picture Heinlein sounding like Pinchot. On one hand, I recommend Heinlein fans buying these audiobooks because the narrator brings these old stories into a fresh light, but on the other hand, I also recommend everyone NOT buy these books as a protest against how they are being sold. Encouraging publishers to reprint single-volume books as two volumes makes a terrible precedent!

I hate that the Blackstone Audio has followed Phoenix Pick, the current publishers of the ebook/paperback editions of Expanded Universe, by selling Expanded Universe as two audiobooks. This is an absolute rip-off! I didn’t buy it on Audible because I didn’t want to waste two credits on one book. It is worth one credit to fans who want to complete their Heinlein on audio, but not two.

I refused to buy these two-volumes until I saw them on sale at Downpour for $4.95 each. In a weak moment, I crossed my own picket line. So I guess I recommend buying the two-volume audiobook edition if you can get them in a 2-for-1 deal. Even then that galled me! It’s annoying to have one book broken into two parts in my library.

If you just want to read Expanded Universe, I recommend getting the original single volume used at ABEbooks. There are many copies available for less than $4 including shipping.

Can you imagine if it became standard to sell old books in two parts so the publisher can charge twice as much? Expanded Universe isn’t even a large book. On audio, the two volumes run just over 18 hours. Many new science fiction novels run longer. New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson is 22 hours and 34 minutes long. Hell, one credit at Audible can get me The Complete Sherlock Holmes (58 hours) or The Complete Short Stories of J. G. Ballard (65 hours). To expect fans to use two audiobook credits for a medium size audiobook that’s essentially the dregs of Heinlein’s trunk stories is not fair at all.

Expanded Universe has always been a kind of publishing rip-off. Expanded Universe reprints a small Ace Book from 1966 called The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein which I already owned. The first book contained four of Heinlein’s older stories along with one new story, “Free Men” that had been written in 1947 but never published. Sort of like buying an album of older so-so songs with one unpublished out-take as a sales come-on.

In 1980 Ace expanded this little book as The New Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein Expanded Universe. That was an honest enough title, expanding those original five stories to twenty-seven, with introductions. It’s a nice collection of Heinlein’s rejects, forgotten works, and a few famous early stories that would appeal to his hardcore fans. Still, it’s yet another repackaging of Heinlein for his ardent fans. The best of these stories were already in the classic Past Through Tomorrow collection.

Before now, I never really like Expanded Universe or The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein though. The less famous stories always seemed dated and slight, and few famous stories were in multiple other collections. That is until I heard Bronson Pinchot read them. Most of the stories are from the 1940s and feel moldy. But when listening to Pinchot read them I realized what Heinlein had been trying to do back then, and it’s far more impressive than I ever gave him credit. For example, some of the stories were written before we dropped the A-bomb on Japan, or just after, and they are now eerily relevant again because of Kim Jong-un.

Many of these forgotten stories reveal better characterization and writing than Heinlein gave his readers after 1965. But they also reveal the seeds of his later obsessions. Expanded Universe is a must for people studying Robert A. Heinlein.

Other stories are minor delights for Heinlein fans who enjoy observing how Heinlein progressed as a writer. For example, “They Do It With Mirrors” is Heinlein’s attempt at writing a mystery story, even including his pet fetish for nudism. Because many of the stories have introductions you get a bit of biography with this book too.

I divide Heinlein’s writing into four periods – the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, and everything after 1970. Heinlein thought his best work was Starship Troopers (1959), Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1965) and wanted to be remembered for those three books. I thought he peaked with Have Space Suit-Will Travel in 1958, feeling his best books were those published in the 1950s. In my opinion, Heinlein’s storytelling abilities began to decline in the 1960s. Stranger and Mistress still revealed decent storytelling chops, but those skills beginning to be overrun by soap-boxing philosophy, and his books after Mistress are painful for me to read now. I thought his work from the 1940s was good, but not up to his 1950s standards. In the 1960s Heinlein started emulating Ayn Rand, and I think that totally ruined him as science fiction writer.

Hearing these 1940s short stories and essays showcased them in the best possible light, and have changed my mind about Heinlein’s 1940s work. Pinchot dramatizes the stories very effectively, bringing out everything I believe Heinlein intended. Because these stories were never my favorites I never put much effort into reading them properly. Pinchot has done that for me now, and I’m seeing Heinlein with new eyes, (or ears).

Listening to these stories allowed me to grok Heinlein’s writing goals and ambitions in a way I hadn’t before. For example, I’ve always thought “Life-Line” a stupid story for its main idea of scientifically predicting when people will die. This time around I realized that Heinlein was writing a story that attacked how people accept or reject new ideas. Pinchot made its characterization come alive, and I felt like I was watching a 1940s black and white movie full of colorful little character actors like an old Frank Capra flick.

If you want to hear what Pinchot sound like listen to samples at YouTube. Here’s about four minutes of the introduction for the voice of Heinlein, and about five minutes from “Nothing Ever Happens on the Moon” for how Pinchot does character voices.

Normally, I’d hate taking the time to listen to a writer’s lesser works, but Expanded Universe became something I looked forward to listening to every morning during breakfast. If you only have one credit at Audible to invest in hearing Heinlein’s short stories, I’d recommend one of these collections: The Menace From Earth, The Green Hills of Earth, The Man Who Sold the Moon, or Assignment in Eternity. It would be wonderful if someone would hire Bronson Pinchot to read The Past Through Tomorrow which collects many of the stories from these four collections along with the novel Methuselah’s Children.

If you want everything by Heinlein you have to get Expanded Universe. How you rationalize paying double is up to you.

 

2017 British Fantasy Awards Winners Posted at 8:26 PM by Dave Post

Dave Post

The winners for the 2017 August Derleth and Robert Holdstock awards have been announced at FantasyCon.

Disappearance at Devil's Rock August Derleth Award

August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel:

WINNER:

SHORTLIST:

 


The Tiger and the Wolf Robert Holdstock Award

Robert Holdstock Award for Best Fantasy Novel:

WINNER:

SHORTLIST:

 

Annihilation (2018) – Teaser Trailer – Paramount Pictures Posted at 10:19 PM by Dave Post

Dave Post

This trailer is stunning — I have no idea what’s going on but I definitely want to see more.  Fingers crossed.

2017 Aurora Award Winner Posted at 2:32 PM by Dave Post

Dave Post

Quantum NightThe 2017 Aurora Awards winners have been announced, celebrating the “best works and activities done by Canadians in 2016.”

Aurora AwardWINNER:

FINALISTS:

 

 

Locus has the full list of winners in all categories.  Our congrats to Robert J. Sawyer and all the finalists!