Tommy Ingram's Eclectic Variety Show

How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellows as I am put them down.

Tag: stephen r. donaldson

New books

Lately it seems that May through August is the only time I have to read science fiction. I’ve been making preparations in order to squeeze in as much as I can. One such preparation is knocking over Nerman’s Books, a nice little used book and antique store on south Osborne. The difficult thing about science fiction is that all the most important authors are out of print, so a used book store with a good science fiction section is a boon.

There are some miscellaneous short story collections—an anthology from New Worlds Quarterly, an anthology of fiction by Jewish authors, and an Avrahm Davidson collection. Orsinian Tales is a Le Guin book I know nothing about, but I enjoyed The Left Hand of Darkness enough to feel safe blindly picking up something of hers. Gateway is a Frederik Pohl book that I’ve been meaning to read for a while now because its premise interested me.

The Illearth War is Donaldson’s sequel to Lord Foul’s Bane, which was the literary equivalent of getting the cherry-filled chocolate from a Pot of Gold box at Christmas. The series has the potential to be better (the first book by all rights should have been better), and I’m curious to see if it actually gets better. But not $10 curious, so I’m buying it used this time.

The last one is Lin Carter’s study of The Lord of the Rings. My memories of The Lord of the Rings are generally positive, but I haven’t read it since I was thirteen and my mind is a little fuzzy on the details. I’m mostly interested in this book because of Carter. From what I’ve heard, he was a good editor and instrumental in getting a lot of important stuff published and reprinted, but his own writing is subpar and his scholarship is laughable—indeed, it set the tone for countless barely coherent fanboy rants over the past thirty years or so, my own included. If I can gather enough material for an article on this, I might just do one.

Still on the “to-read” pile is Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle, which I bought in August and didn’t get a chance to read before the school year got into full swing, and David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, his incomplete third novel (not SF, but also in the “bought ages ago and haven’t read yet” category).

Review: Lord Foul’s Bane

But look at this seventies cover:

This should have been one of the greatest works of fantasy fiction ever written. It has an original thought-provoking premise that should be hard to screw up, and it came out in 1977, when fantasy was in a bad place. In the aftermath of the success of The Lord of the Rings, “fantasy” had come to mean reselling Tolkien in watered-down form. The Sword of Shannara would come out the same year. Lord Foul’s Bane was in the perfect position to be a meaningful and important contribution to the genre. Unfortunately, Stephen R. Donaldson screwed it up, and we wouldn’t get the book he should have written until six years later, with The Colour of Magic.

The premise is simple: Thomas Covenant, a novelist and incidentally a leper (yes, there are still lepers), gets hit by a car and finds himself transported to a fantasy land called, conveniently enough, the Land. He questions the Land’s existence, and we are given good reasons to do the same: its history parallels his own, its conflicts mirror his psychic turmoil, and some things in the land—names, snatches of tunes, etc.—are obviously drawn from our world. Covenant appears to the people in the Land as a hero spoken of in prophecy, and quickly finds himself with a quest to carry out. Whether or not it is a dream, the Land obstinately refuses to go away, and he is forced into a kind of provisional acceptance of it so he can keep his sanity and complete the quest.

It plays with some interesting ideas and must have been novel at the time, when we had yet to see the worst that high fantasy had to offer. Donaldson’s fault wasn’t in the conception. It was in the execution, which is so flawed that the book is hardly worth talking about except as a cautionary tale. Read the rest of this entry »