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Superfan Interview: Malazan Book of the Fallen

Welcome to the first edition of Fantasy-Faction’s Superfan Interviews feature. The concept of this brand new feature is simple: go out, find some Superfans and interview them about why they appreciate an author’s work as much as they do. This feature has a place near to my heart, because I consider myself a Superfan of Peter V. Brett and Brent Weeks (amongst others) and appreciate each and every chance someone gives me to talk about them!

This week’s interview is being conducted with Joel Minty who is the author of Purge of Ashes: Book One of the Imbalance. He considers the series we will be interviewing him about, Malazan Book of the Fallen, the chief inspiration for his own work. Well, lets get on with it then shall we? 🙂

So, what exactly is this series about?

MalazanThe decay of gods. The history of those whose deaths shape the passage of time. The burden of suffering upon those who would create beauty. The longevity of the land’s spirit beneath the rigors of man. The plight of the unwitnessed whose struggle has been lost in the annals of memory.

If that seems poetic, heavy or massive in scope, as if I did not answer the question, then WELCOME to the Malazan Book of the Fallen!

When did you first come across the series?

I believe Memories of Ice was soon to be released. I was on a rock band’s internet forum back in the late ’90s discussing the merits of Robert Jordan, George R. R. Martin and no one else – because they were all I knew about fantasy that wasn’t the Forgotten Realms of my youth. Someone said Erikson was better than both. A couple members cried foul and went to test the veracity of the statement. They came back and agreed with the audacious claim like triggered Manchurian candidates. If you set out to test something determined to attain a certain outcome, yet you cannot help but come to the opposite conclusion, that is a most telling science. I gave it a try.

Can you describe the feelings/emotions you experienced the first time you read through it?

Each book delivers very fulfilling ‘convergences’ by their closing 200 pages and I would always read each one in a rush. Above any individual book, however, is a feeling of awe at what an impressive piece of art the series really is. There are more than a few shocking moments I had to reread, and more than a few moments I had to search back through the books to make connections. Understanding Malazan is a journey that is not to be untaken lightly. When you are satiated with more typical fantasy, it looms waiting for you in the distance. 

Do you have a specific part of the series that is particularly memorable?

Deadhouse Gates (cover)The Chain of Dogs. The Seige of Capustan. Both are epic military movements thick with action and thicker with tragedy. The Chain of Dogs in Deadhouse Gates is the real hook of the series. Very few go back after reading it, although that will change with the increasing popularity of the series. It chronicles the vast migration of soldiers and people from a city in uprising south towards sanctuary, and is the most direct influence on myself as an author. The Seige of Capustan is just my favourite battle in a book. Heh. ‘Just.’

There are many, many moments that slow your heart just a little. So many. One that jumps out to me is in Reaper’s Gale in the streets of Letheras. Erikson has two characters come together by coincidence who have been built up over three earlier novels, indomitable forces of will too solar to stand in the shadow of the other. Like gifts during the holidays, waiting swells the moment.

What other series could ever drop such figures next to each other 6,000+ pages in?

Could you tell us something about the series you think is overlooked or not fully appreciated?

Malazan fans are very loud in their appreciation. I feel many aspects of the series get the respect they are due – the writing level, the philosophy, the worldbuilding, the heartache, the comedy, the grit and the convergent climaxes. You still have to experience the sheer magnitude of the books yourself.

If I had to choose, I would maybe say the amazing production schedule: Erikson produced ten 1,000 page intricately-woven novels in a mere twelve years.

With hindsight, what about this series makes it stand out above the thousands of SFF titles out there?

Its dominant depth of scope.

Do you think there is a carry over between the series and real life?

Midnight Tides (cover)In Midnight Tides we get a more direct taste of Erikson’s commentary of humanity, revolving chiefly around the kingdom of Letheras. The ballsiest book ever written (I dare you to find any other series that has a new continent and one carry-over character come book five), it becomes clear that the Letherii are emblematic of capitalism and the United States of America. The humans here are different than the ones we met on Genabackis (books one and three) and the Seven Cities (books two and four). The novel deplores their obsession with money, their unnecessary rules and restrictions, their exploitation of the natural world, and their notions of civility and savagery.

Beyond this, much of Erikson’s worldview is peppered throughout the rest of the series – if not in his moments of introspection and reflection, then in the poetry and prose that initiate each chapter. He always struck me as akin to another favourite genius of mine, Bill Watterson – the creator of Calvin and Hobbes. Each relishes nature, peace, and has little good to say about your basic human. They also weave humour and pathos with an elegant grace.

Do you know much about the author? Does anything stand out?

Erikson has a reputation of not giving a damn if you can keep up with his sprawling world. When you are trying to engage with the books and finding it a challenge – as most do – this can be seen as cocky or exasperating. Once you become one of the faithful and ascribe to his church, this attitude becomes celebrated. It’s your job to piece things together without being fed (even if that means tons of fact-checking and compiled theories online). As such he exudes the confidence of one celebrated for being on a different plane of mental capability than mere mortals.

Other than that, he is a Canadian who grew up in Winnipeg and created the world of the Malazan Book of the Fallen with co-creator and childhood friend Ian Cameron Esslemont – who has contributed seven full-length novels of his own to the world. Real name ‘Steven Rune Lundin’, he studied archeology and anthropology before becoming an author. He graduated from the prestigeous Iowa Writer’s Workshop and published the fiction novel The River Awakens so he could have some cred before pushing for the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Rumor has it he signed a six-figure (in British pounds) deal to produce all ten novels – and, most impressively, did.

Personally, he gave me an excellent answer to my Reddit AMA question.

AMA-with-Steven-Erikson

If you had the opportunity to meet them, what would you say?

I would say little, but I would listen intently.

What would you say to someone who hasn’t read this series already?

You will struggle, you will be baffled, you will need the help of internet masterminds who have plumbed deep the depths – and you will feel dwarfed by the scope as each page draws back the curtain a little more. Succumb and commit yourself. To reading the series twice, preferably. The second time through fills in so much and is an experience in and of itself.

Do you consider yourself a Superfan of a particular series? We’d love to hear from you! Email me on Marc@Fantasy-Faction.com

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8 Comments

  1. Avatar Bernie Anes says:

    I don’t think the series was as hard to grasp as people say it is. It’s not a neatly packaged tale though which in my opinion was the whole damn point. Life isn’t either. Shit happens, plans are slapped aside or shelved for Stuff Going Down NOW.

    Saying that however it really was difficult to get into at first. You’re basically thrown into the middle of a fully developed world with a huge history and backstory already built. Actually, a friend of mine who just started the series wondered if I had given him the wrong book when I gave him the first book in the series. Once you tough it out though and get the brain juices going you’re treated to a truly fantastic journey.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the series and would recommend it to any fan of fantasy. I wish there were more series like it, but these days stuff tends to be more thrillery and the few authors sticking to the old ways don’t quite have similar styles of world building. Understandably so, though…

  2. Avatar A212 says:

    I love the Malazan Book of the Fallen – currently at book 8. I just adore the scope, the storytelling and the characters. My favourite fantasy series ever.

    Full stop and exclamation point needed.

  3. Avatar Shawn Gillogly says:

    Brilliant summation. And I’m gladdened to hear Erikson’s view on query letters and synopsis. The entire approach seems designed to cheapen the author into pre-packaged fast food by-products to be consumed.

  4. Avatar xiagan says:

    Great interview and I fully agree. 🙂

    For those who want to start the series now, we have a read along over at Fantasy Faction’s forums with multiple discussion points for every book. 🙂

    -> http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/deadhouse-gates-%28malazan-book-of-the-fallen-ii%29-by-steven-erikson/

    There’s also a reading order where the Ian C. Esslemont novels are chronologically interwoven with the Erikson novels.

  5. Avatar Alex says:

    I don’t think it was clear that Letherii were meant to be emblematic of the U.S. (though there was plenty in common), I saw it more emblematic of the United Kingdom, given the Letheri were first and foremost colonialists and an imperial monarchy.

  6. Avatar Lars says:

    My fav series, no doubt. Currently reading it for the second time, and so far i find it even better (at book 6 at the moment) Deadhouse gates and Midnight Tides is absolutely amazing on the second read.

  7. Avatar ihate_00 says:

    …..wow, really nice addition, superfan reviews is a great idea if you ask me…..and to talk about the series I would just say that it is something that you need to experience to appreciate, a work by a author who truly loses his world and characters and definitely has planned out the story to its most minimal detail…..Malazan is must read for any fan of fantasy in my book…..

  8. Avatar J says:

    My brother talked it up, so I tried the first book…read a few pages and flipped thru a bit, but nothing was remotely interesting. (Especially since I didn’t really feel like I had the time or shelf space for a HUGE series that apparently needs to be researched as the reader goes just to be followed. I don’t only read fantasy and my to-read list in that genre is still hella long.)
    And nothing here makes me want to try again…if anything, the first paragraph of the “know anything about the author” answer makes me glad I didn’t spend more time on it. Like, I don’t need a lot of handholding–I enjoy a book that requires my full attention to enjoy, or gets better on reread and is enriched by reading some fantheories, but a book should be READABLE on the first go–w/o having to, apparently, join a cult to “get it”. I ain’t got time for that kinda shit.
    But who knows; I’ll keep an open mind if I ever see an argument for it that intrigues me.

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