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An interview with Steven Erikson

Steven Erikson's ongoing fantasy series, the Malazan Book of the Fallen has brought new life and originality into the fantasy genre. Steven Erikson kindly spoke to Fantasy Book Review in September 2009, shortly after the publication of the ninth novel in the series, Dust of Dreams.

We believe that you are now living in the UK full time. We would like to welcome you back to our little island and ask you if it was the weather or the cuisine that prompted your move across the Atlantic?

Neither. Out of the blue our son decided he would like to study archaeology in the UK, and this, combined with my wife's desire to be closer to her family, as well as my hankering to be closer to two of my publishers (Transworld and PS Publishing) and the many UK-based friends I have made over the years, all led to yet another crossing of the Atlantic. That said, we're probably getting too old to keep doing this, and I'm hoping this time we'll find roots, maybe in Cornwall, or maybe somewhere else on the island. For the moment, however, Cornwall is home.

We live in a small village, and I am presently sitting in a very nice country pub a short ten minute walk down a footpath from my home. That path takes me through a graveyard so I am looking forward to the winter and walks in the grey dusk, with the wind howling.

We are all [at Fantasy Book Review] enthusiastic readers of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series but not one of us can claim to fully understand everything that has happened in the series so far. Should we beat ourselves up for not concentrating hard enough or is it simply that much is yet to be explained?

Honestly, don't beat yourself up over it. One of the things both Cam and I were agreed on regarding this series, was to write in a style that conveyed a sense of vastness, with a strong flavour of realism where not all answers are forthcoming, not all truths survive their utterance, and sometimes mystery abides no matter how desperate we all are for an end to the questions. That said, there will be plenty of resolutions, but the world will not be wrapped up with a pretty bow.

As for the events that have been recounted in the books, well, things are always open to interpretation, and I am also rather pleased to learn from readers that the books fair well in re-reads. I am a writer obsessed with layering my narrative, so there's plenty to find for the reader even after the raw events of the story are well-known.

Dust of Dreams is the ninth novel in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Do you believe that you have significantly improved as an author since the publication of Gardens of the Moon? Were there any weaknesses that you detected early on and remedied?

I certainly hope that I have improved as an author! Certainly I now possess a greater comfort with things like structure and pacing (although I sense that in the case of the latter some of my readers would rather I cut to the chase quicker than I do; to which I can only respond that my reasons for doing what I do continue to satisfy me, and trust me, if I am not satisfied absolutely no-one else will be. I am very deliberate in my approach, and I would humbly remind those impatient readers that their pace is not my pace; that reading is an engagement distinct from that of writing, and that at no time do I pad for the hell of it – again, I have my reasons!).

There is also a growing comfort with language that comes with doing this year after year, but I can still recall my earliest days at the University of Victoria, when I repeatedly blindsided my fellow students by delivering stories in a broad, unpredictable range of voices, so even back then I suppose I was trying out different styles, messing with rhythm, tone and point of view. All of that fed the fantasy novels, as I moved from voice to voice, from point of view to point of view. The exploration and discovery continues and to indicate something of my sense of that journey, I have recently been re-reading the series from the beginning (my first time doing this, and all in preparation for writing the tenth novel), and there are entire sections, especially in the early books, that I do not even recognize as coming from me. Sentence construction, certain phrases, the pursuit of notions in some unusual direction – all of this tells me that I am not the same writer, but I really cannot distance myself to the point that I can actually map out these changes. They come as a shock, each time.

In my mind I always separate out Gardens of the Moon from the rest of the novels in the series. I pretty much started full-time writing with Deadhouse Gates, and it is with this novel (the second in the series) that I can see the sharpening of focus, the crystallization of intent, that has continued to this very day.

Gardens had other demands pressing upon it. As I read it now I can see precisely what I was seeking to do and if I try to imagine how I'd do it now, well, I draw a blank. So maybe in that sense I haven't improved at all! Or rather, I've not yet discovered that quintessential secret that would deliver that novel to the largest audience possible.

We all have our limits, I suppose. I have read reader reviews and comments on the amazon sites and elsewhere, listing the perceived flaws in Gardens of the Moon and advising what should have been done to fix them, and to my judgement, none of those solutions would work (and I should know, since I thought about them long before they did, back when Gardens was a pile of pages and rough notes on my desk). Advice is cheap and more often than not it doesn't hold up to close examination. In any case, I often don't agree with the observations being made, so I'd hardly endeavour to make changes to suit them, would I? I can see stylistic tics in that first novel that I no longer use, but I have spoken about this before, and besides, I think it's something all writers discover in themselves. They try things early in their careers and if those things prove vaguely uncomfortable they get abandoned, and the writer moves on.

You have recently signed a deal that will see you write more Malazan Book of the Fallen novels. Is there a small part of you that yearns for a complete break from the series and a fresh start on something completely different?

With the tenth novel, The Crippled God, the 'Malazan Book of the Fallen' ends. While Cam (Ian Esslemont) has a few more to write in that sequence, I do not. The two new trilogies I am signed to write share the world and its cosmos, but they do not resume the arc of the Fallen. This may seem an odd distinction, maybe even an unconvincing one, but it is sharp in my mind. The whole point of the Malazan Book of the Fallen was to deliver a self-contained series, a slice of history, and to give the readers a sense of completion when they read the last line on the last page.

I also write other stuff, squeezing it in here and there, and with eighteen-month deadlines forthcoming (rather than the twelve-month ones I've been doing for this series), I am planning on doing a bit more of that.

Do you feel that discipline is vital for an author and that a certain amount of time every day should be dedicated to writing, regardless of whether you feel “in the mood”?

My own rule is four hours a day, at least five days a week. I don't do word counts or anything like that. Discipline is essential to being a writer, but the specifics are entirely personal and there's no hard and fast rule for how you measure a day's work. All that counts is what comes out at the end.

Stephen Donaldson, an author you have been compared to on many occasions, has always spoken very highly of your work. In 2004 he released The Runes of the Earth, twenty-one years after the previous title in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant had been published. Could you imagine coming back to complete a series after such a long gap?

I've not been a writer long enough to imagine anything like that, but as a fan of the series, I am delighted that Steve elected to return to it.

Do you think that your books would lend themselves to film adaptation? Or would you take the JRR Tolkien stance and declare that your work is “quite unsuitable for dramatisation”?

Under the present format of film-making, the Malazan sequence is problematic. Note the caution in that statement. I know precisely how this series could be made, but I will save my pitch for some future meeting with a producer (and I anticipate the moment when their jaws drop).

Midnight Tides is, at the moment, our favourite book from the series. Although all of your work features humour, Tehol Beddict and Bugg take it to a new level, and it is often wonderfully surreal. Was this a conscious effort to inject a little more light-heartedness into the series?

A conscious effort? I don't think so. I like to think the humour was present in every book, but I do accept that Tehol and Bugg delivered something new. But not as new as it may at first seem. Their precedents were Iskaral and Kruppe, as both characters engaged in a peculiar self-referential style of humour. Tehol and Bugg just took that one step further. The consciousness involved in their creation had more to do with offsetting the sheer gravity of the rest of Midnight Tides.

But even then, they arrived (on that rooftop) in one of those uncanny, slightly bewildering, fully spontaneous manifestations that hit writers on occasion. A bed? A blanket? All out of nowhere, completely unplanned. Once they arrived, I just sort of sat back and let them run with it.

Is there a fantasy book from your own childhood that completely captivated you? A book whose very mention brings breathtaking feelings of nostalgia?

Plenty. One I actually stole for a character in my non-fantasy novel, This River Awakens (written as Steve Lundin): Jack London's 'Before Adam.' Others include Tarzan of the Apes (the first one, which I still admire) and some other Burroughs books. My nostalgia is more for a period in my life when I first discovered books –- both fantasy and SF – and the awakening of my imagination.

We have received many emails asking if there will be a tour to coincide with the UK publication of Dust of Dreams. Is there anything planned?

Alas, no, although I will be at Fantasycon in Nottingham. I arrived in the UK woefully late on delivering the next Bauchelain/Korbal Broach novella. It's finally done, and I have already plunged into The Crippled God. No rest for the wicked.

Cheers
Steven Erikson

Our Steven Erikson reviews

Gardens Of The Moon by Steven Erikson

"In the years and many novels since, certain facts have made themselves plain. Beginning with Gardens of the Moon, readers will either hate my stuff or love it. There’s no in-between. Naturally, I’d rather everyone loved it, but I understand this will never be the case. These are not lazy books. You can’t float through, you just can’t. Even more problematic, the first novel begins halfway through a seeming marathon – you either hit the ground running and stay on your feet or you’re toast."Steven Erikson, 2007Steven [...]

9.2/10

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The God is Not Willing by Steven Erikson

When Steven Erikson’s ‘The God is Not Willing’ was announced, and we edged closer to a return to the Erikson-written Malazan world, I was ecstatic. Very few authors in the two decades I have been reading fantasy have managed to captivate to the degree that Erikson has managed.Similarly, there have been very few authors capable of fostering the level of excitement for a new book that Steven Erikson was capable of since he confirmed he would return to the world of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Even fewer authors are able to meet the soaring levels of expectation tha [...]

10.0/10

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The Crippled God by Steven Erikson

Much of what I want to say on having finally completed ‘The Crippled God’, the final book in Steven Erikson’s ‘The Malazan Book of the Fallen’, has to do with my feelings on the series as a whole. Ten books is a long time to be reading, a lot of investment, and I want to take my time to say what I have in my head. So stay tuned to the FBR Blog for my new series, Finishing the Book of the Fallen. I will endeavour, then, to keep my comments restricted to this tenth and final book.How do you finish an epic-fantasy series? It’s a little like asking how [...]

10.0/10

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Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Deadhouse Gates continues the Malazan Book of the Fallen, a story begun in the wonderful Gardens of the Moon.There are characters that are familiar to us from the first book of this series, Garden of the Moon. Kalam, Fiddler, Apsalar and Crokus have their stories further explored here and we are also introduced to new characters such as the excellent Mappo Runt and Icarium. These two newcomers must be arguably the best characters so far, and that against very stiff competition from Whiskeyjack and Quick Ben.The House Paran plays a large part in this book again but this time it [...]

9.2/10

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Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson

FantasyBookReview.co.uk advises printing and using the following pages for reference when reading Midnight Tides. The dramatis personae and glossary are featured at the beginning and end of the book respectively and are very helpful.Midnight Tides - DRAMATIS PERSONAEMidnight Tides - GLOSSARYAfter decades of internecine warfare, the tribes of the Tiste Edur have at last united under the Warlock King. There is peace &nda [...]

10.0/10

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Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson

Memories of Ice is the third book of the series entitled A Tale of the Malazan Book of The Fallen. It follows directly after the events of the first book, Gardens of the Moon, and runs concurrently to the events in the second book, Deadhouse Gates.The continent of Grenabackis, setting for Gardens of the Moon is returned to for Memories of Ice. The continent is being ravaged by a new empire, the Pannion Domin led by a prophet, the Pannion Seer. In order to battle this new terror an alliance is made between once-enemies, the Malazans, Warlord Caladan Brood and the Tiste Andii led by An [...]

9.8/10

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The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson

Picking up where Lee left off and having the chance to review Steven Erikson is a dream. Reviewing his books is like what I imagine it would have been to review Tolkien when Two Towers and Return of the King hit shelves. It is being part of an epic in the making, and one that could very well usurp Middle Earth as the greatest literary creation.The Bonehunters sees us rejoining the Malazan Fourteenth Army, under the command of Adjunct Tavore Paran. Sha’ik is supposedly dead, the army of the Whirlwind in tatters, and the last survivors making for the refuge fortress city of Y&rsq [...]

10.0/10

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Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson

So here we are for the eighth time and it just gets better and better. I found this book to be a bit less frenetic than The Bonehunters as it seems like Mr Erikson is getting things organised for the final push. But that is by no means a reason to believe the action slows down. I guess things just seem more in control since we don’t spend any real time with the Malazan army.The main events center around Darujistan, and more specifically around Kruppe. There is a dialogue throughtout the story of observances and asides that all come from Kruppe’s thoughts, so while we stil [...]

10.0/10

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Reaper's Gale by Steven Erikson

Rating a book is inherently dangerous. Well beyond the normal trials of dealing with authors who believe they’re the next Tolkien but are lucky to know how to spell Tolkien, it’s the really good authors that provide the greatest problems. For example, I finished my review for the Bonehunters by Steven Erikson over a week ago. At the time it was a 10 out of 10 book. I still believe it is. However, what happens when the next book is just as good?This is the problem I’m facing with Reaper’s Gale, the seventh volume in Erikson’s series, the Malazan Book of t [...]

10.0/10

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Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson

What can you say about the ninth book in a series that you haven’t already said in the previous eight, especially with the tenth and final book currently propped open on your lap. Not much, especially not much if I don’t want to just repeat myself.So I will break form and say something about the story itself.Read around and you might end up hearing that ‘Dust of Dreams’ was a little slow. As my compatriot George Roesch commented in his review, “this is my kind of slow.”In all honesty, I can’t imagine where the book could have be [...]

10.0/10

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House Of Chains by Steven Erikson

House of Chains is the fourth book in Steven Erikson’s A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Bantam Press originally published House of Chains in 2002.In the aftermath of the Chain of Dogs extraordinary destinies are being played out. Karsa Orlong, a tribal warrior from Northern Genabackis descends into the southern lands as part of a raiding party. Adjunct Tavore faces the legions of the seer Sha’ik with an army of raw recruits. Waiting in the heart of the Holy Desert the Sha’ik’s warlords are at each other’s throats and she herself is haunted by th [...]

9.2/10

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The First Collected Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach by Steven Erikson

August 2010 sees the release of three Steven Erikson novellas, bound together in one edition and titled The First Collected Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. All three are set in the world of the Malazan Empire and follow the exploits of the mysterious necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach.Blood Follows: In the port city of Lamentable Moll, a diabolical killer stalks the streets and panic grips the citizens like a fever. As Emancipor Reese’s legendary ill luck would have it, his previous employer is the unknown killer’s latest victim. But two str [...]

8.5/10

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The Wurms of Blearmouth by Steven Erikson

The Wurms of Blearmouth is a novella, first published in June of 2012, written by Canadian author Steven Erikson and set within the lands of his Malazan Book of Fallen series. It follows on from the tale told in another novella featuring Bauchelain, Broach and Reese, The Lees of Laughter’s End.I am a self-confessed Steven Erikson junkie. I need a fix on at least a monthly basis and often find myself re-reading one of the ten Malazan books (I must have read Gardens of the Moon at least five times now) or as on this occasion, reading a novella set within the same universe. I have [...]

8.0/10

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Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson

It is the Age of Darkness and the realm called Kuruld Galain - home of the Tiste Andii and ruled over by Mother Dark from her citadel in Kharkanas - is in a perilous state. For the commoners' great warrior hero, Vatha Urusander, is being championed by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such arrogant ambition.As the impending clash between these two rival powers sends fissures rippling across the land and rumours of civil war flare and take hold amongst the people, so an ancient power emerges from seas once [...]

8.3/10

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The Second Collected Tales of Bauchelain & Korbal Broach by Steven Erikson

Mages, [Reece] concluded, were obnoxious in so many ways it was almost pointless listing them.With all the high drama and world-shattering battles, it’s easy to forget that Steven Erikson also writes comedy that borders on insanity. Whilst there are more than a few snippets in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, from Iskaral Pust to Tehol and Bugg, Telorast and Curdle to the Mott Irregulars, his boundary-pushing is on full view in these short stories. Anyone who has read the main series will have their own opinion of the terrible duo, Bauchelain and K [...]

7.0/10

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Willful Child by Steven Erikson

I love Star Trek. I probably love Star Trek more than you do. I don’t, however, love Star Trek more than Steven Erikson does, as is proved by reading Steven Erikson’s latest book, ‘Willful Child’.Willful Child is the Star Trek-spoof every self-professed Star Trek fan wishes they could have written. It is a blatant love letter written to the long-deceased Gene Roddenberry, all the while acknowledging the absolute absurdity of William Shatner and Jim Kirk. From a future with clothing more prone to tear at a small breeze than today, to a captain willing to do alm [...]

7.8/10

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Rejoice by Steven Erikson

Creators around the world have been expressing their various levels of distaste and concern at the state of the world and its leaders forever. This is especially the case for creators who are able to use fantastical cut-outs for their commentary: Think of ‘Star Trek’, back in the 60s, as a prime example of this, replicated by The Next Generation in the 90s and even The Orville in the last few years. Superhero comic writers have similarly been using their medium to rail against (primarily) American politics – to varying degrees, depending on the current st [...]

7.0/10

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