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Mr. President

"Mr. President," the aide urgently said as he shook the President awake. The President tossed and turned for a second before tiredly opening his eyes.
"What is it? Is it about the climate conference?"
"Aliens, sir." The president froze for a moment and then sat up, alert as ever.
"Peaceful?"
"It does not appear so."
"Shit." He hopped out of bed and toward his closet. "What is the situation?"
"Look at the sky." The president turned back to the window and looked up. In the sky were several hundred bright orbiting dots, illuminated by the yet to rise sun. He immediately turned back to his closet. "Mr. President, you need to come with - "
"I'm sure as hell not making first contact in this!" The president hastily put on a suit. "What do we know?"
"Four minutes ago, our radars went crazy, hundreds of spacecraft just popped into orbit out of nowhere. Moments later we get a transmission from, presumably a high ranking alien official, demanding to talk to our leader, or we would face the consequences."
"Well, at least we won't die from climate change. They are speaking in English?"
"And Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, pretty much every major language."
"So they presumably know a lot about us by now. What do we know about them?" The President and the aide exited the bedroom and into the halls, filled with bustling high ranking officials. One handed the President a coffee.
"Not much. The aliens appear to be somewhat reptilian, bipedal with four arms, and they presumably severely outrank us technologically. Ground based telescopes and the NRO's satellites are currently assessing their fleet." A woman handed the President a folder.
"Hold this," he said, giving the aide the coffee, and opening the folder, which was filled with preliminary low quality pictures of ships in the alien fleet. "Oh boy."
"Mr. President," said a general, "Radar scans estimate some ships are several kilometers long. Energy emission is also high in the infrared wavelengths, suggesting high heat rejection, with a spike in several wavelengths right as they arrived."
"Thank you, general. Keep me posted." The trio turned the corner into the Situation Room, where, on the big screen, an imposing, green, scaly, four armed figure stood.
"At last, a leader," the being said in a sly, commanding tone.
"Good morning to you, too."
"I assume by now, you will have scanned our fleet enough to know you are no match for us."
"Tough to say, all we have are a few grainy pictures." One of the screens to the President's right switched to showing estimated fleet statistics. "Ah, the numbers are coming right in now."
"Your "International Space Station," "Deep Space Gateway," and "Harmony of The Heavens" combined are no match for even our smallest vessel, and your fleet of "Starships," "Dragons," and "Orions" would barely register."
"Sir, Putin will be joining the call," whispered an official.
"Roger." The President turned back to the alien. "By our estimation, we are greatly outclassed in terms of space superiority. What is it that you want from humanity?"
"Prompt unconditional surrender." The President's eyes narrowed. The display updated with better information, along with a higher detail picture of one of the larger ships in the fleet, high resolution enough to resolve engines and weapons along the triangular hull. Curiously, however, a massive star shaped shield could be seen oriented towards the sun.
"Russia will not surrender," Putin replied.
"You are in no position to negotiate," said the alien. An idea popped into the President's head.
"Why do you want our surrender?" asked The President.
"As you are in no position to negotiate, you are in no position to demand information from us."
"Not even your name?"
"Neither of you have been so keen to volunteer yours."
"Well tell me if I'm right... You know enough about us to be able to translate into any of our languages at will, you know enough to know the names of our space stations, and you know how to use our communication protocols." Several other world leaders trickled into the call, most remained silent.
"Your protocols are simple and unsecure. A toddler could figure that out."
"Therefore, you should also know our history... How we can make war so brutal when we want to." The alien remained silent. The fleet analysis screen kept rapidly updating. Several battleships, curiously of many different types, punctuated by larger and smaller warships, and many of what appeared to be troop transports comprised most of the fleet.
"You want to scare us into surrendering because you want to avoid a long, drawn out fight... If that didn't matter, you would have attacked already. You want - "
"Mr. President, we are transferring the call to Air Force One, please come with us."
"Hold on, General. You want this planet, or something on it, and you want it cleanly. Am I right?"
"If so, what does it matter?" shouted the alien.
"Sir, the alien spaceships are maneuvering into formation." The screen updated again with more information, which The President studied as quickly as possible.
"Because you are not getting it cleanly." The President motioned for one of his aides, who handed him a briefcase, which the President rapidly opened. The President input a code and held his hand over a button.
"Nuclear weapons, how quaint. Our ships could withstand magnitudes more, if you could even get close! Even if you did dent our fleet, we have thousands more mighty fleets ready to drop in!"
"I'm not aiming for you. I'm aiming for Russia and China." Putin's eyes widened. "Strategic locations, nuclear power plants, the whole lot. And I invite Putin over there to do the same, but directed at us. The fallout will render this planet effectively uninhabitable. You asked us if we had scanned your fleet, and we have. Those are radiation shields, aren't they? Pointed directly at the sun? And your body armor, it wouldn't stop the smallest of bullets. That's not armor, that's a space suit - one with a ton of shielding! My best guess is that you are terribly radiation sensitive - bad news if we nuke the planet."
"Your assessment is incorrect."
"I don't see you correcting us." Putin pulled out his own nuclear briefcase.
"Russia's nuclear weapons are targeted at American infrastructure, nuclear plants, and the Yellowstone supervolcano. Our salted cobalt bombs are prepared to raise radiation levels to unacceptable levels. Our Poseidon bombs are prepared to create tsunamis that would wipe out major coastal cities."
"Wait, I thought we banned those!" the President exclaimed.
"China's nuclear weapons are primed for launch, targeting various sites."
"United Korea's nuclear missiles are ready for liftoff, - "
"France's nuclear weapons are - "
"Britain's - "
"India's - "
"Pakistan's - "
"Israel's - "
"In short," said the President, "We may not have the power to destroy you, but we have the power to destroy the thing you want. I believe we are now in a position to negotiate. So tell me, what is your name?" The alien paused and considered.
"I am Srizdiforf Riew, Srizdiforf is a rough approximation of your title Admiral."
"Well, Admiral Riew, welcome to Earth. If we don't get our way, you will most definitely not like it here."
"Our ships are ready to fire upon your cities."
"As are we. Now tell us, Riew, why have you come here?"
"We seek to conquer and expand for the glory of the Empire."
"Alright, why Earth in particular?" There was a pause.
"We seek resources."
"If you did, you wouldn't have come here, for every place with life, there's a million more without. If you want resources, go ahead, you can have Venus if you want! There's several good asteroids out there I can think of!"
"You misunderstood, we seek the unique a world conducive to our life."
"Then head for the Trappist system, plenty of worlds that are a decent level of habitable out there with nobody to guard them. We have a full list of candidates."
"Only your planet is suitable for our life."
"Oh come on, you've got "Thousands of mighty fleets," warp drives, ships dozens of kilometers long, can't you just do some terraforming?"
"The Empire is amazing at terraforming!"
"Then tell us why. Why are you so averse to terraforming the Trappist system instead, or Mars, or Venus, or even fixing Earth after we nuke it to pieces? Can you terraform or can't you? Please, Riew, put it in terms we can understand. Why Earth?"
"Mr. President," said a General, "Look." The scan display had updated once more, and the fleet assessment was more or less complete. The President's eyes widened. He paused.
"Surrender or we will attack," shouted Riew. "We care not for your nuclear weapons, we shall terraform your world back any way. You will face complete destruction and enslavement if you do not surrender!"
"Who are you running from?" The President asked. Riew froze.
"We are not running."
"Look at your fleet. I see several battleships here and there, and a ton of smaller warships, punctuated by a few larger ships, but you know what, Riew? No two are the same, as if the fleet was thrown together from whatever ships you could find, and nearly all of them are damaged. Your largest ship has a gaping hole in the side, and several of your ships are visibly falling apart! And all of those troop transports... They aren't transporting troops, are they?"
"..."
"The fleet composition, the strategy, the damage... This is not a coherent invasion fleet, this is a refugee fleet, isn't it?" Riew was silent for several moments.
"The Empire was once the greatest known force in the galaxy. We prospered like no other. Waged war like no other. Waged peace like no other. Terraformed like no other. Innovated like no other. But then the Ierdis came. They came and slaughtered our children, decimated our planets... They defeated us."
"So you ran with whatever you had left."
"We... We are the only ones left. We ran and ran, trying to find a world with the right conditions to rebuild. We were nearly out of fuel when we finally found this place... But you were there. You humans. You disgusting vermin! You destroyers of hope! I saw planets burn, I saw trillions of my own kind die! And I ran, in hopes of finding a better future for those who remained. We battled our way out of Ierdis space, but only a fraction of the fleet remains. Do you, Mr. President, know how hard of a decision it is to leave tens of thousands of your kind behind in the path of oncoming doom because you have no spare parts left and no time to transfer the crew over? Or spending three quarters of your remaining fuel getting to a planet that looks amazing and then have to tell the remainder of your species that "Oops, the atmosphere is poisonous?" Humans... You will never know what it is like to lead your fleet to the last beacon of hope, a near perfect world, although too warm, on the last drops of fuel and last spare parts, only to find out that someone beat us here by several thousand years? A someone so territorial that they have fought wars over practically nothing? Our only hope was scaring you into surrender. And we tried. And we lost... Territorial does not do you justice. You would blow up your own planet and everyone on it just to stop us from having it. But, what does it matter to you? You have defeated us with words alone. Goodbye, Mr. President. I will take the fleet to the Trappist system, I believe fuel is sufficient. We will die there, but we will die having walked on firm ground once more." Riew turned away from the camera, defeated.
"Wait, Riew... You studied us for how long?"
"A month."
"And you didn't think we'd want to help?"
"..."
"How many thousands of stories and movies and series do we have talking about peacefully exploring the stars together, only resorting to battle when attacked first?"
"You can't even unite long enough to help yourselves. Look at your nuclear stockpiles."
"And you look at the fact that we've only ever used two of them. Look, we may not be perfect... Who is? but we strive to get better. Despite what we do sometimes, the vast majority of us want to live in peace, collaborating to become better and better, maybe exploring the stars."
"Collaborating to explore the stars, you can't collaborate long enough to save your own planet from yourselves."
"You have a point, but we're already collaborating to explore the stars! You yourself mentioned the International Space Station, our most ambitious spacecraft yet. It was largely constructed by two countries who were once archenemies! We do struggle, but we seek to overcome, and I'd say we've done okay so far. Look, Admiral Riew... I can't speak for all these other ladies and gentlemen, and I don't expect full cooperation as you have left quite a sour taste in our mouths with your quite rude arrival, but if everything was up to me, I would say that we must do all we can to help."
"As do I," said Putin.
"The Commonwealth is at your service," said Queen Elizabeth.
"We may not be friends, but we are certainly not enemies, so we will help however we can," said another leader.
There was a chorus of agreement with only a few dissenting voices.
"How many of your kind are on your fleet?"
"Approximately seven million."
"And you said Earth is a little warm for you?"
"Correct."
"This is not final at all... I have no authority to do this. This will require an international agreement the likes of which has not ever been seen before. But I would like to propose giving the... What is your species called?"
"Serik."
"I would like to propose giving the Seriks the unclaimed portions of Antarctica. Admiral, does this land meet your needs? It is inhospitable to us and there are so few resources there, nothing grows, but it is cold, so it might meet your - "
"The Seriks would be forever in your debt. We would never be able to repay you."
"As far as I'm concerned," said the Prime Minister of New Zealand, "You can have most of our Antarctician claim."
"There may be something we can do as well," said the Prime Minister of Australia. "The unclaimed part, for sure, though."
"We will have to go through the legal trouble, and prepare vaccines, and whatnot, and find out if we can make whatever they eat, but on principle, is anyone opposed to the idea of letting the Seriks stay on Earth at least temporarily?" asked the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. A few leaders voiced concern, but none of them outright condemned the idea.
"Admiral, how long can your fleet last before needing to land?"
"We estimate eight months."
"Well it's not going to be pretty getting all the vaccines ready for a completely new biology in that time... Unless they are different enough that we can't cross infect. But, we did it quickly with COVID, we can do it quickly if we set our mind to it. Expect a deal on Antarctica in one or two months maximum."
"One more thing, Admiral," asked The President. "The Ierdis. How far away are they and how long will it be until we have to worry about them?"
"We don't know, hopefully never. While fleeing, we entered an unstable wormhole, as such, we have no idea where we are, we only know that we are far enough away the Ierdis will almost certainly never make it this far."
"Okay. So we probably don't have to fear them. That is good news."
"Mr. President... And Humanity..."
"Yes, Admiral?"
"Why?"
"Why what?"
"Why did you help?"
"Because we hope you'd do the same."
"Then what can we do? What could we ever do? If this goes though, you have saved our whole kind. We threatened to destroy your civilization and you respond with love! There is nothing we can do that could ever repay your unconditional, undeserved compassion. Nothing!"
"You said you were good at terraforming, right?"
"With the proper equipment, which we do not have."
"Well, our planet is in the middle of a disaster right now. You studied us, you know about our climate situation?"
"You want us to fix it?"
"You can?"
"Easily, once we are re-established!"
"And that could also take the planet a few degrees closer to your optimal temperature, so win-win!"
"But this is still nothing compared to what you have done for us!"
"If you're looking for more to give, your technology will undoubtedly work miracles."
"But - "
"Well, if you're still on the fence, consider it a gift." The Admiral broke down, into what Humanity would later find out was the Serik equivalent of crying.
"There is nothing we can ever do that could ever make up for what we tried to do to you!"
"You know what you can do for us, Admiral? It will take a while, for sure, and the road will doubtless be bumpy... But remember what we said earlier about collaborating to peacefully explore the stars?"
"Yes?"
"Please, if you will, join us in pursuit of that future."
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Climbing Mount Readmore: Reading Our Top Fantasy Novels Part 27 - 15-11

Welcome to the antepenultimate entry of this review series. Each month I will be reading 5 books from our Top Novels of 2018 list until I have read the starting book from each series. When we last checked in, I nearly finished 20-16. Now we go from 15 to 11:
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15. The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J Sullivan, Book 1 of Riyria Revelations (13 on the 2019 list)
Hadrian and Royce are partners in a business venture they call: Riyria. One day they are setup to appear as the killers of the king of Melengar and must flee for their lives. The princess of Melengar, believing they are innocent, asks them to kidnap her brother, the young prince Alric, assuming that he will be killed next so that the real assassin can claim the throne. Thus Riyria and the prince set off on a journey to hopefully clear their names and to uncover the true killer.
Oh yeah, it's that time again. Time. For. Logistical. Problems! Riyria Revelations were originally 6 self-published fantasy stories that were then traditionally published with each traditionally published book being compiling two of the self-pubbed novels in each volume. This means that the first trad pub novel, Theft of Swords, contains the two first self-pubbed novels, The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha. I decided to just tackle Crown Conspiracy because I am lazy at heart and after 135 books and 26 posts in this series, I think I've earned the right to some corner cutting.
Royce and Hadrian are a fun duo. The impression I get is that they are the whole appeal of this book with their natural camaraderie and storied friendship. You've got dark and cynical scheming Royce and jovial, burly Hadrian who play off of each other in a rather simple but effective way. I get why people would follow these characters for a 6-book series. They just feel pretty fully formed and ready to be comfortable companions for a long haul adventure. The story itself isn't anything special but it provides enough twist and turns that I imagine it could hold most people's interests.
On the flip side I'd say that the writing is pretty shallow and the worldbuilding feels a bit bland. I'd be hard pressed to tell you how this world differs from a generic fantasy world in any meaningful way though I have a nagging feeling it is slightly different in some way that I either missed or have somehow forgotten. When I say the writing is shallow, I mostly mean that the prose is only serviceable and it's in a very limited building blocks of writing style. You get some decent banter out of our main duo but descriptions are pretty rote, there's not a lot of emotional weight to the scenes, and action scenes are described in a way that is so straightforward as to sometimes be unengaging. Sullivan hasn't quite mastered the art of sucking you into a story despite his flair with characters and that left me feeling a bit cold throughout the book, to the point that I largely felt like I was forcing myself to continue on at the end rather than actually wanting to read on.
It's not an incredible book, just a decently fun one (although I fell a little more on the side of not quite fun enough for my tastes). If you're in the need for something light to kill time, you can do worse, but I don't really see anything that raises this book above the ranks of "okay." Maybe other books in the series improve upon this.
  • What's a similar novel that deserves a chance? I think a lot of books could scratch a similar itch to this since it's just fun if mostly by the numbers fantasy. That said, if you want said books to also feature a fun contrasting duo, you can't go wrong with the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series by Fritz Leiber.
  • Would you continue on? Eh, probably not. It wasn't bad but I also didn't feel all that interested in it.
14. Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, Book 1 of the Broken Empire (19 on the 2019 list)
Jorg Ancrath is the forgotten prince of a medieval kingdom in a future earth where magic has come back into the world following societal and technological collapse. Jorg leads a band of outlaws known as the Brotherhood but his real goal is to reclaim his lost throne and somehow conquer the world so he can put a stop to the endless wars for power that destroyed his family.
I admit there's a certain wild fun to it that makes it engaging. Jorg is essentially a freewheeling psychopath who is already deep into all the terrible things that the Brotherhood loves. He engages in pretty much all of it from murder to arson to extortion and so on. The appeal of this character is kind of like the appeal of watching 5th season Walter White on Breaking Bad. Yes, he's a terrible person, possibly even the worst person but there is a certain carefree glee in seeing this murderous shit go hog wild with his schemes and evildoing. I'm not totally sure that's a good thing, but I'll admit it made the book surprisingly captivating even on reread in a time when I was pretty sure I would be burned out on grim antiheroes getting away with anything they want to get away with. And sure, Jorg assures us his motives are noble over and over as a fig leaf gesture that he's not really evil but that is so at odds with what I found the appeal of the book to be that I can't help but question is that ambition might set the story back a bit. It might be an even more ambitious story if Jorg was just transparently evil doing whatever he wanted and we watched his monstrous actions the same way we watch car crashes and couple arguing in public: with a mixture of horror and also of relief that that's not us.
The biggest complaints I have with it largely boil down to some questionable issues with the construction of Jorg as a character. Jorg is a 6 foot tall gifted swordsman and brilliant strategist at the tender age of 13. I feel like this was probably a step too far and takes him a little uncomfortably close to the Mary Sue zone for my tastes. Each of those traits is fine in isolation and you could have probably even gotten away with and two of them together but all four at once starts to push it. This is also not helped by the fact that unlike other books featuring characters of a similar age that focus on how they trained themselves to get to this point (like say Blood Song), Jorg is already this way when we meet him. All his training and skill happened offscreen which inherently makes it a bit harder to buy into. It's also just less satisfying seeing someone start out with all the skills they need to handle everything they're going to go up against rather than growing into those skills and earning them over time.
It's worth checking out for anyone who likes grimdark but I can easily see why it's a divisive book that not everyone will get into. The lack of any good characters and the near total absence of empathy in the story can be pretty draining, speaking as someone who largely liked the book.
  • What's a similar novel that deserves a chance? This one is hard to recommend for not because there aren't books similar to it but because all the most likely candidates are already on the top novels list. I guess Jack Vance's Dying Earth series might be a good one to try just because of the setting but really all the best fits for similar grimdark series are already also popular and well known.
  • Would you continue on? Yes, I do still like this one.
13. Storm Front by Jim Butcher, Book 1 of the Dresden Files (14 on the 2019 list)
Harry Dresden is a down on his luck wizard, behind on his rent and only one rule break away from being executed by the White Council of wizards. Unfortunately, a magical murderer is loose in Chicago and everyone from the Chicago PD, to the criminal underworld, to the White Council's official watchdog Morgan think that Harry Dresden is responsible.
I can't believe how long it took me to actually try this series. I've known about it for 15 years and I'd somehow never read it despite the praise, despite the adoration, despite it being so popular. If someone ever invents a time turner, I'll have to go back in time and kick myself for that. Storm Front is one of those wildly popular books that upon reading it, you can immediately see why it's so beloved. This book was fun, funny, action-packed, and, most surprising of all, powerful. Often times popularity doesn't translate into quality where prose is concerned but Butcher can write fairly well. The first murder scene Harry Dresden sees in the book is visceral and emotional in a way I was not expecting. Butcher's mostly straightforward and lean style suddenly unfolded itself to reveal more emotional weight behind it and an understanding that the narrative needs to make space for those moments to take their time rather than be rushed through. The characters too are well defined and easy to visualize in a way that I feel is often lacking in a lot of other fantasy works. The mixture of real world noirish PI work with more high fantasy elements like magic and Fae works surprisingly well and really makes the urban fantasy genre click in a way that I'd never personally felt it connect before. I once read the first Iron Druid book by Kevin Hearne and while I thought it was passable and fun, Storm Front blows it out of the water which is quite an accomplishment when I keep in mind that Storm Front is also considered lower tier Dresden Files. And one thing I cannot praise enough is the pacing of this book. I could not stop once I had started. And this is especially unique because I listened to this as an audiobook. Usually I just listen to those at work and often struggle to listen for more than 30-40 minute bursts but with this book I left it playing all day even after I had gotten home because it was that captivating.
If I had to point to a weakness of this book, I'd say the 90s-era benign/casual sexism is pretty repetitive and Dresden fairly regularly falls into this trap more than any other character. I'm hoping this aspect gets ironed out as the series progresses because it was tiring listening to him check out every female character he comes across. I guess the magic is a little underdeveloped and underutilized but I didn't feel like that was a huge drawback of any kind. The world is set up quickly and efficiently, the character relationships are given primary importance, and all of the important plot details are there. Waiting to learn more about the magics of the world can easily take a back seat when all of the fundamentals are so well covered. As a side note, I wound up going with the audiobook on the advice of a redditor here and I have to say that that was a fantastic choice. James Marsters does a great job with the reading and with playing the character of Harry Dresden and I felt like that really helped to enhance the experience of what was already a a really engaging and fun book. This is a good one to recommend if somehow you're one of the few people who waited longer than me to finally read this series and if you can overlook some very dated sexism.
  • What's a similar novel that deserves a chance? Have you considered literally every other urban fantasy novel? Okay, I kid, I kid. But there are dozens of novels like the Dresden Files so I'm going to go a little farther out here and say that The Last Sun by KD Edwards is a good urban fantasy book that strays farther from the magical PI mold.
  • Would you continue on? Hell yes. I already spent my next Audible credit on the sequel.
12. Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, Book 1 of Malazan Book of the Fallen (same position on the 2019 list)
The Malazan Empire, eternally expansionist, has set its sights on Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis. As Sgt. Whiskeyjack and his elite squadron of Bridgeburners work to conquer the city, powerful forces scheme behind the scenes to unleash an ancient monstrosity that could enslave the entire world.
Malazan has a reputation as one of the most difficult series in fantasy and to be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Malazan it's somewhat justified though also a bit overblown. I don't think the series is too hard to follow once you're into it (the actual plot is fairly straightforward, just approached from a weird angle) but the first book avoids just about every bit of kindness readers have come to expect to help ease them into a new world. The first half of Gardens of the Moon is an alienating, challenging read that drops you into this fully formed world without any explanation to help you orient yourself but if you make it to the halfway point, you'll find the rest of the book suddenly unfolds and it gets easier. This is why I always recommend Tor's great Reread of the Fallen to first time readers as it was vital to helping me get through the first half and helping me figure out just what the hell was going on. By the end of the book, I no longer needed the expert re-readers to help guide me through the novel but it was still nice to have their insights.
What's good? The characters, the immersive world, the rule of cool factor, the interesting philosophizing. Everyone is interesting with a unique outlook on the world and they all get moments to shine whether it's world weary Whiskeyjack, young and naive Crokus, scheming and cold Sorry, the bumbling Kruppe, and on and on. You'll rarely find a bigger cast of characters captured as well as this. And that immenseness is important to the world of Malazan because the scope of the story is kind of staggering. Erikson wastes no time throwing you into a massive battle involving innumerable soldiers on all sides and chaotic, mountain-leveling magics being hurled about that make many other fantasy story's final battles look downright restrained by comparison. That's something that I think often gets lost in discussion of how hard to follow this series can be. The appeal of the series is, I think, actually pretty straightforward and easy to grasp. Sure the writing may not always be easy to follow (I'll get to that) but immortal dark elves that can turn into giant dragons and cast world ending magics being the literal book opener? If the writing was just a little more accessible, I think it would be hard for people to hate the sheer magnitude of rule of cool stuff happening in this book (aside from people who hate rule of cool magic which, I can't say I don't also sometimes get sick of).
What's not so good? Thorny dialogue, oblique writing, untraditional in ways that can be confusing, uneven pacing. Erikson may be one of the most notable practitioners of the "parachute in" approach to writing where absolutely nothing about the world is explained to you and you have to figure it all out from context clues. The advantage of this approach is that it forces organic understanding in and it makes for great rereading but the downside is that any first time reader will be completely lost upfront. I don't think that's the biggest issue. The biggest is that the pacing is rough. Erikson is known for letting his events build up over a long period of time before the finally converge into a truly epic climax and there are times when that can be satisfying but this first book is definitely his weakest attempt at that convergence. The events just build up too slowly and it's too hard to see how everything connects at first (especially if you're a first time reader) which results in the book sometimes feeling both devoid of momentum and devoid of context though even once context becomes clearer, the momentum can still be lacking. I wish Erikson could have figured out a way to make this read a little quicker and for things to feel more connected upfront.
Really though, Malazan is an incredible series that's worth checking out but it's also a series that you'll be able to tell really early on if it's for you or not. Even while struggling with the early chapters of the book, I was hooked on its unique approach and knew I wanted more so it was easy to push on until I got to the point where I could understand it. If you don't experience this same feeling when reading the book, I don't think there's any shame in putting it aside.
  • What's a similar novel that deserves a chance? That is a good question. Malazan is made unique by two aspects: its complexity and its sprawling nature that touches on damn near every topic you can write about. As such, there are a lot of similarish recommendations that can capture an aspect of Malazan but none to my knowledge that match the whole. So I guess I have to throw this back out to the audience for an answer. I hope one of you has a better answer than me.
  • Would you continue on? I already have
11. Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, Book 1 of the Wheel of Time (4 on the 2019 list)
Eons ago, the demon known as the Dark One corrupted half of the magic in the world leaving any man who tries to use it vulnerable to slowly creeping insanity. An organization of guardian women known as the Aes Sedai use their untainted magic to hunt down and constrain the male mages before they can do real harm but they also keep an eye out for the reincarnation of the greatest male mage of all time: the Dragon. Perrin Aybara, Rand al'Thor, and Matrim Cauthon, three youths bound by fate, are the likeliest candidates of being the Dragon Reborn and so the Aes Sedai Moiraine seeks to shepherd them to the safety before the reawakening forces of evil can kill them.
Plenty of people warned me going in that this is the bad Wheel of Time book, the one that is all set up and that consists largely of Jordan paying his storytelling dues to Tolkien so that people will get on board for the experimentation that he gets into later. Even with those warnings I was unprepared for how boring this was. The pacing is slow as hell and huge chunks of the book are spent traveling to uninteresting locations where the culture is explained briefly before moving on to another less than interesting location. Occasionally these exchanges are livened up by fight scenes with orcs trollocs and Jordan does manage to make these scenes sufficiently gripping but it feels like there's about 300 pages of story and 500 pages of filler here. Not every episode is unmemorable, the scene where Rand sees how the false Dragon is treated and the adventure in Shadar Logoth where Mat acquires his dagger stick out in particular. If there were more scenes like this in this first book, I think I would have enjoyed this story a lot more than I did.
It's not all bad. I can see why people like the characters here, there quite memorable. They're all easy to understand and and largely relatable in a way that I think speaks to some real skill on Jordan's part. I can certainly see these characters carrying a fourteen-book series, especially Perrin and Moraine, with the former being more levelheaded and thoughtful than many protagonists of this age range in epic fantasy and the latter adding some serious gravitas and interesting mentorship. While I disparaged the book earlier as feeling like it was drawing too much from LotR, Moraine is one of the areas where I think something genuinely new has been added and she doesn't feel anything like a Gandalf clone. I also think the worldbuilding here is good in an understated way that doesn't draw a lot of attention to itself. There are interesting things happening here that make it feel wider in scope than many other epic fantasy of this era would even if they are not all readily apparent. That is to say that I see factors here that I can imagine the story could build upon to make itself more interesting than this first novel.
One random aside is that I've heard for so long that Mat is one of the best characters in the books but man, he really sucked in this book. I was constantly amazed watching this unlikable whiner make all the worst choices while reminding myself "this guy is gonna be the character everyone loves." All I can say is that Mat must have an absolutely amazing growth arc in the rest of the series.
I can't really recommend this book on its own. It feels like a muddier, slower paced rewrite of Fellowship of the Ring and while there are some interesting ideas in the worldbuilding, few of them really get any exploration in this first 800 page entry into the series. I probably will continue on to at least one more book just to see if it starts to shape up more quickly but book 1 feels like a bit of a dud.
  • What's a similar novel that deserves a chance? Now this is one that I didn't expect to have as much trouble with as I did. Like Malazan, the sprawl is what makes this a hard series to recommend similar books to. Though its start is a bit generic, it unfurls in vast directions to the point that it's hard to find books that match the overall experience. So I'm also throwing this one back to you all: what is a similar novel to this series that people should try?
  • Would you continue on? This was a really weak first book but everyone assures me it gets better so perhaps
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And that's it for this month! Be sure to check back same time next month. As always, feel free to comment with your thoughts on any of these books and their respective series. Contrary opinions are especially welcome as I'd like to know what people saw in these series that I didn't.
submitted by kjmichaels to Fantasy