Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Back in 2007, I was walking around completely disillusioned with the fantasy genre. The conventions that I loved as a wild-eyed teen were becoming tired and predictable. I could not suffer through one more coming of age story about a naive farm boy who is orphaned by murdering trolls, given a magic Gee-Gaw by the King of the Elves and saves the world from nameless and vague evil forces. Just when I thought I had outgrown this stuff, The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss landed in my lap, courtesy of my father who is normally quite allergic to books with pictures of dragons on them. It was book one of The Kingkiller Chronicle and the quality of the writing, the depth of the characters and the fresh reboot of the familiar Tolkien landscape blew my mind. This wasn't just a fantasy novel. This was literature.

Here we are four years later and I have just finished the dreaded "middle book" of the trilogy. The one in the middle always gets a bad rap. Questions are posed, yet few are answered. Characters develop, but not fully. Bad things happen and the good guys don't always win. We nerds call this "The Empire Strikes Back conundrum". The author has to advance the story, yet he still has to hold most of his cards close to the vest to keep readers invested for the big finale. It is not an easy thing to do. So with that in mind, I must say this: Mr. Rothfuss, my hat is off to you sir. The Wise Man's Fear is a brilliantly crafted piece of The Kingkiller Chronicle puzzle.

This is the story of Kvothe the Bloodless, a legendary adventurer who has hung up his sword and cast himself into self-imposed, witness protection-style exile as an innkeeper named Kote. Songs, stories and epic poems have been written about his deeds but Kvothe wants to set the record straight by recounting the gritty reality of his life to a scribe named Chronicler. We see how legends are made, and how at the heart of legends there often sits a tragic and wounded man who desires neither praise nor adoration. It deftly touches on issues of racism, cultural and ethnic divides and the power of human potential. All of this heavy stuff is well rounded with a snappy sense of humor and some of the funniest dialogue I've read since Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett teamed up to write Good Omens.

This hefty tome clocked in at just under 1000 pages, and after turning the last one I wished there were 1000 more. I just hope I don't have to wait another four years to read the conclusion. If Mr. Rothfuss wasn't so busy being accessible to his fans, signing their books, posting and replying to his blog and just generally being an all around great guy, it might not take so long. So I guess there is my one complaint. Now you can't call me an obsessed fanboy or whatever. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Hidden Gem

John Steakley passed away on November 27th, 2010. During his entire career as an author he wrote two books. One was an orgy of testosterone about a bunch of bounty hunters who killed vampires for fun and profit. It was eventually adapted into a John Carpenter-directed train wreck that hit theaters for about five minutes before fading into obscurity. His other book however, is something very special and deserves more than just the bargain bin at Barnes and Noble. It is a thoughtful meditation on the destructive nature of war and the toll it takes on all those who fight. It is the story of a man driven to the precipice of madness and then nudged gently over the edge by the unseen hand of authority. It's called Armor and it should occupy a proud place on the bookshelves of science fiction fans everywhere. You should probably read it too. Don't worry, it's got plenty of action and slick dialogue to go along with the philosophy stuff. It opens with a quote from "The Masao" which is probably one of my favorite opening quote/poem thingies ever:

You are
What you do
When it counts.

How can you not love a book that starts out like that? However, if this is true than I guess you might as well call me "Runs away and screams like a little girl". Still, great book.