the hell kind of apartment has a moat?"
GO FORTH AND VOTE
If you're a citizen of the United States, then today is the most important day of the year: Election Day.
Millions of people have suffered, bled, and died to give you your right to vote. But voting is more than just a right: It's a responsibility. Voting is the fundamental bedrock of a democratic civilization. When a citizen fails to vote they are, in a very real and definite sense, inflicting harm on society as a whole.
So if you've been thinking you might just skip this election, then you should take a moment to think about all the sacrifices which have been made to give you your vote. And then find the resolve within yourself to wait in line and perform what is both your duty and your privilege.
QUICK-SHOT: DUNE SAGA
I originally wrote my What I'm Reading reactions for Dune and Dune Messiah in the summer of 2006. They were supposed to be part of a series of reactions covering the entire Dune saga, but I got distracted by other projects and never finished it.
Basically, I think the Dune sequels are almost universally under-rated.
In order to complete proper reactions for the later books at this late juncture, however, I would need to re-read the series. That's unlikely to happen for awhile, so -- in the interim -- here's a quick summary of my thoughts.
CHILDREN OF DUNE
I think that either Dune Messiah or Children of Dune is the weakest book in the series. However, it's difficult to figure out which book is worse because it depends on how you choose to look at the problem
On the one hand, Children of Dune is almost certainly a better novel than Dune Messiah. On the other hand, it is also very derivative of Dune Messiah. Essentially, Children of Dune retells the same story: In Dune Messiah, Herbert tells the story of how Paul slips out of the shackles his prescience had placed upon the human race. And it culminates in the birth of twins he did not foresee, which (for me) pretty clearly indicates that Paul's vision has been derailed.
But then Children of Dune comes along and says, "Nah, just kidding. You need to pursue the Golden Path to derail the shackles of prescience." And then it promptly retells the same story as Dune Messiah, starring Paul's son instead of Paul.
Given the somewhat half-baked quality of Dune Messiah, I suspect that this is literally a case of Frank Herbert wanting a do-over. But the derivative nature of Children of Dune greatly diminishes it if you're reading the series in sequential order.
On the other hand, if I had to choose one book or the other, I think it's a no-brainer to choose Children of Dune.
GOD-EMPEROR OF DUNE
I think it safe to say that God-Emperor of Dune is probably the most-reviled book in the series. But I actually enjoyed it a lot. It's a very different novel from the earlier books. It's a contemplative, almost zen-like poem -- but one laced with deeply horrific tragedy. Watching Leto slowly strip away his own humanity in order to save all of humanity was a profound experience for me.
I think God-Emperor of Dune also speaks to the problem many people have with the series: Herbert didn't write sequels in the traditional sense of the word.
If you look at works like Star Wars, Lethal Weapon, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Bridget Jones's Diary, or Asimov's Foundation, for example, you will find that the sequels are all pretty similar in tone, content, and style to the original work.
But that's really not the case with the Dune novels. Even Dune Messiah is fairly distinct from Dune, and God-Emperor of Dune is a completely radical departure. And I can easily see how someone who enjoyed Dune would find absolutely nothing appealing about the style or structure of God-Emperor.
Fortunately, I like both styles of fiction. And, for me, the contrast between the two only enriches the experience.
HERETICS OF DUNE / CHAPTERHOUSE OF DUNE
But it's also difficult to know exactly what to make of them. Unlike the earlier books, they were specifically conceived and written as a trilogy... but Herbert died before the trilogy was completed. So it feels a little bit like reading The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers if Return of the King had never been written.
They're good books... but you're left dangling with no sense of conclusion or thematic closure.
When I was reading these books, the concluding duology -- written by Kevin Anderson and Brian Herbert -- had not yet been published. Although I've generally avoided those books like the plague, the next time I read through the Dune saga I'll probably break down and read the duology. If nothing else, it's supposedly based on Frank Herbert's original outline -- so it will hopefully give me some sense of where Herbert was planning to go.GRADE (HERETICS): A
GRADE (CHAPTERHOUSE): A
|November 7th, 2008|
WHAT I'M READING 54: THE ICEWIND DALE TRILOGY
R.A. Salvatore has two strengths as a
First, he’s capable of writing fresh, detailed, and exciting battle
scenes – battle scenes which not only serve as really excellent set
pieces, but which also actively contribute to the plot. Salvatore’s
stories don’t get put on pause while his characters throw down.
Instead, each fight is an important part of the evolving drama.
|November 10th, 2008|
WHAT I'M READING 55: THE LEGACY / STARLESS NIGHT
The problem with The Legacy is that Salvatore allows one of his strengths (his ability to vividly describe fight scenes) to bloat horribly out of control. The plot, with minimal spoilage, can basically be summarized as such: There is about twenty pages of meaningful character interaction. Then there’s a big battle between dwarves and goblins. This battle is extensively described in both tactics and detail, but is ultimately meaningless: It has no effect whatsoever on the rest of the book. Then there’s another twenty pages or so of meaningful character interaction. And then there’s another huge, rambling fight sequence that lasts for two hundred pages.
In fairness to the novel, while the battle between the goblins and the dwarves is utterly pointless, the big fight sequence which makes up the bulk of the book is laden with plot. But it’s still just a big fight scene: It’s page after endless page of detailed thrusts, parries, dives, cuts, blood, noble charges, and hard struggle.
Die Hard literally has a narrative with more breathing room.
More damning, however, is that the plot is poorly formed.
(There are some meaningful SPOILERS from this point forward.)
In my reaction to the Icewind Dale Trilogy, I mentioned my belief that perhaps the biggest reason Drizzt Do’Urden caught the imagination of so many readers was Salvatore’s decision to give him a rival of equally deadly skill in the formidable assassin Artemis Entreri.
I don’t waver in that conviction, but in reading the handling of the Drizzt-Entreri rivalry in The Legacy, I kept expecting one or the other to don a leather jacket, hop on a motorcycle, and jump over a shark.
Let me see if I can sum this up: Mixed into the larger fight sequence, Drizzt and Entreri fight. Their fight gets interrupted. They futz around for a bit, and then they fight again… but this fight gets interrupted. So they futz around for a bit, and then they fight again… and this fight gets interrupted, too. So they futz around for a bit, and then they fight again… and this time Drizzt wins by knocking Entreri off a cliff. Entreri falls to his doom.
Except Entreri isn’t dead. He’s got a magical cloak that lets him fly. So he flies back up and they fight again. Drizzt wins again, and this time he knocks Entreri unconscious, causing Entreri to fly into a cliff at literally breakneck speed. Entreri falls to his doom.
Except Entreri still isn’t dead. His now-broken magical cloak has caught on a rocky spur and he’s dangling from a cliff. So a completely different character climbs up to Entreri, cuts the cloak off him entirely, and then watches him fall to his doom.
For real this time.
(Just kidding. In the next book, it’s revealed that Entreri was miraculously saved from his fall by people who had no reason or opportunity to do so.)
There are just so many problems with this…
By the time Salvatore is done, the Drizzt-Entreri rivalry has been robbed of its meaning and significance: While there was definitely room left open for a rematch after the end of The Halfling's Gem, the numerous fights between the two in The Legacy eventually just become so much noise on the page.
Salvatore, to his credit, manages to recover from his mistakes by providing a really powerful conclusion to the fight… the first time Entreri falls from the cliff. By the third time that Entreri has supposedly fallen to his doom, even that has been turned into a hollow mockery.
More importantly, there are only about fifteen pages of actual plot to be found here, yet Salvatore has stretched that material to cover more than fifty pages through sheer, dull-minded repetition. This is infinitely worse than the wasted space in Exile: There you had random encounters which served no greater purpose in the plot, but at least they were interesting and original in their own right. In The Legacy, you simply have bloat.
And this is just one plot thread. The bloat within the other plot threads is not nearly as egregious, but all of them suffer from it.
Here’s what it really boils down to: The Salvatore who wrote The Crystal Shard would have boiled The Legacy down into about 50 pages of taut, action-packed storytelling. Unfortunately, the Salvatore who actually wrote The Legacy gave us a 300 page mess leading to...
Basically, Starless Night suffers from the same problem The Legacy does, although to a slightly lesser degree: Instead of 50 pages of plot bloated into 300 pages of novel, it's 100 pages of plot bloated into 300 pages of novel.
The actual, meaningful plot of Starless Night is fairly straightforward: Drizzt returns to his homeland and discovers that the dark elves are planning to conquer the kingdom of his dwarven friend.
That’s a solid plot. It not only moves along the arc of the greater story Salvatore is obviously trying to tell, it also offers up those essential crucibles which reveal and develop character: Drizzt, returning to the homeland he had forsaken, has a meaningful internal struggle. His friends’ reactions to his decision are meaningful turning points. And so forth.
But again, Salvatore can’t keep his eye on the ball: The plot wanders off in a thousand random and meaningless directions. Several pointless fights consume page after page of empty action. Narrative beats are repeated again and again and again… and again until you’re reduced to tears of boredom.
Characters also begin acting in a shallow and random fashion. Whether it’s a dark elf priestess monologuing with Machiavellian glee over the doom of our hero while the hero’s allies rally right behind her or a dark elf mercenary, immediately after capturing Drizzt, launching an elaborate and completely unmotivated plan to free him again, Salvatore’s characters simply lack any believability.
(To clarify: Motivation is given to Drizzt’s liberator. However, the motivation makes no sense. After being instructed by his employer to kill all the witnesses to Drizzt’s capture, the character concludes that his employer will make a public announcement that Drizzt has been captured and, thus, screw things up. The character, therefore, decides to free Drizzt and avoid the crisis.)
(Feel free to read through that again. But it won’t help.)
Salvatore doesn’t do himself any favors by introducing a plethora of new characters. Mostly villains, these new characters aren’t meaningfully vested with any identity or purpose: They’re given names, shoved briefly onstage, and then hacked down. You have the vague feeling that perhaps you should be cheering Drizzt on with particular vigor when he confronts the drow priestess who’s been torturing him… but since that torture was scarcely even mentioned before the confrontation happens, you don’t really care.
And don’t even get me started with the half dozen people who all want to fight with Drizzt so that they can prove that they’re the Biggest Drow in Town. The final confrontation between Drizzt and one of these would-be challengers was cleverly handled (with Drizzt’s natural talents facing off against magically-enhanced skill), but since the challenger had absolutely no personality or existence beyond “I want to fight Drizzt!!!” the entire confrontation felt pointless. It was just a fight for the sake of a fight.
These books are deeply disappointing after the fun times of the Icewind Dale Trilogy and the Dark Elf Trilogy. I own several more books in the series (having bought them in bulk so that I could take them on a vacation to Mexico), but have never bothered to read them.
THE LEGACY: D+
STARLESS NIGHT: D+