04 June 2014

Books: Against All Things Ending by Stephen R. Donaldson (2010)

I don’t know. I mean, I think I remember enjoying The First and Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant when I read those books 30 years ago. But then again, back when the dinosaurs were roaming the Earth, I read almost every fantasy book that come out between 1979 and the mid-1990s. Maybe my perceptive of them has dimmed in those three decades. Or, after reading so many of them, when I finally decided that the fantasy genre was just repeating itself like an old song, I should’ve never gone back to the genre.

Still, there was Harry Potter, which did rekindle my interest in it a bit, along with Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series (though both writers pen for kids more than adults). But overall, my relevance in reading what was once a very important genre has gone the way of the dodo. Part of the reason started with Robert Jordan’s overlong Wheel in Time series. While the idea of a six book series (which was the original intention) seemed daunting –which it was back in 1990- it promised and epic story that could rival Tolkien in scope –and, obviously, length.

But from the start, I really disliked Rand al’Thor–the young man at the center of this story- along with his two friends Perrin and Matrim and potential love interest Egwene. All were petulant, unappealing and, at times, childish. While someone new to the genre might like that, by the time I started reading them (as they came out), I was bored with the whole anti-hero, because Stephen R. Donaldson had already done that with the six volumes that make up the Thomas Covenant series (plus, as Jordan began to expand the story –the six was now to become twelve, though it eventually topped out at fourteen- he needed new characters to help fully realize the many different factions within this universe he created. So while the scale of what Jordan was doing could be deemed impressive, in doing so many fans felt the novels where slowed down, and that major characters introduced in the first book, essentially were reduced to making just extended cameos in those later volumes. This has begun to plague George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series as well).

For me, Against All Things Ending suffers from being the penultimate volume in a four book series –Donaldson needs to set all the pieces for the final volume. This creates a huge problem in that the set pieces of this novel are few and far between and instead we get a lot of talking, a lot of hand wringing from Linden Avery (who had devolved into a sad, pathetic hero who thinks she can solve all the Lands problems, but really can’t so she uses the magic of the Staff of Law to resurrect Thomas Covenant from the Arch of Time) and a “fellowship” of outcasts who follow Avery, even though I can’t seem to understand fully why (and the only interesting character is The Ardent –a Time Lord/Q like man whose mission is to make sure the The Harrow keeps his word. But even he comes off as silly construct, with the ability to transport the entire Team Linden Avery away from danger when needed, creating -once again- a deus ex machina).

This reliance on an overlarge cast –so big, it seems, they’re incompetent in doing anything - because it’s simply impossible for them to arrive at a consensus about what to do next. And like The Game of Thrones series, Donaldson writes pages and pages of each of those characters reaction when things do happen. This hinders the pacing of the entire book, especially the second half. 

There is no sense of urgency in the fact that the collateral damage to Linden resurrecting Covenant means the destruction of the Land has begun. Do they try to figure out a way to solve this conundrum? Yeah, but in the meantime, Donaldson has his characters shillyshally over stupid personal issues –not to mention that everyone seems to dislike everyone else and that has to rear its head everywhere. It’s like arguing who would win in a fight, Kirk or Picard, while the Zombie Apocalypse is knocking on your door and breaking through the cracks. They torture themselves, as well, over every bad decision, wrestle with every possible action and willfully seem ignorant that their inaction is doing more damage than them actually trying to prevent The Lands destruction. 

After three books, it seems clear to me that Stephen R. Donaldson bit off more than he could chew. The plot has been very thin here, and I remain unsure why he felt The Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant needed four books to conclude this series when the first two were able to be told in three. The want to describe everything in great detail, the necessity for characters to ask a question, which then demands a page and half of anxiety description before we get an elusive answer is annoying – not to mention Donaldson's prodigious vocabulary. 

I will conclude the series, but I need a break. I need to read something a little less dense, a little less whiny and a little less frustrating.

No comments: