Thursday, April 24, 2014

Westeritis: A dangerous new epidemic in fantasy fiction?

So I was incredibly excited to read Elizabeth Bear's new book The Steles of the Sky, the third book in the Eternal Sky trilogy. Since I've begun it, however, I have found that I just can't get into it at all. I'm sticking with it and hoping I'll get over it, but it's a real slog and I keep putting it down for more engaging things, like Clash of Clans. The problem is, there are just too many storylines and each one is too complicated, so I can't keep track of who's who. It may not be fair, but I am tempted to blame George RR Martin.

Anyone who's either read the Game of Thrones books or watched the TV series knows that you practically need a spreadsheet to keep track of all the characters. If you've read the books and you watch the show with someone who hasn't, you'll find they keep asking you, "wait, who is that again?" I haven't watched all the shows, just part of the first season, and when I read recaps of them I don't remember half the people they're talking about.

Is it fair to say that Bear is imitating Martin in trying to balance all these storylines? Does the Eternal Sky trilogy have a case of Westeritis? Certainly it's not that simple. Martin was far from the first person to make fantasy series that sprawl all over the place. But perhaps if the world of Westeros hadn't set the example her editors might have told her to trim things back a bit.

One might say that this kind of thing works for someone like Martin, but not as well for other authors. But honestly is it true that it even works for him? The main storyline is incredibly engaging but it's hard to care about every single one of his characters. This was revealed starkly in A Dance With Dragons, his most recent of the series, which disappointed a lot of readers by focusing entirely on what most people would consider secondary characters and giving us little time with the people we want to know the most about. Part of Bear's TSoTS's book's problem is that it's been a long time since I read the previous book and I don't remember who everyone is. I anticipate a similar problem when Martin finally stops giving us dribs and drabs of The Winds of Winter and finally puts the book out.

For other fantasy authors overcome by the urge to fantastic sprawl with countless pov characters, I prescribe a two aspirin and a dose of Patrick Rothfuss, whose Name of the Wind is as sophisticated and complex a fantasy book as there is out there with only one pov character. The third book of the trilogy is not coming for a while, but I will have no trouble remembering who Kvothe is.

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