A book signing with Steven Erikson

Steven EriksonI reviewed the Malazan Book of the Fallen last year — it is one of the very finest Fantasy series, in my opinion. I met Steven Erikson today during a book signing at Borderlands Books in San Francisco. Sadly, there were enough people in the audience who had not read all first five volumes that he read from Memories of Ice rather than from the final manuscript of the sixth volume, The Bonehunters (due out in February 2006) that he carries with him on his Palm PDA.

Tor Books has acquired the rights to the series for the US market. They have already published the first three volumes, and are expected to catch up with the British publishers by the eighth or so. The cover art on the Bantam British edition is better though. The publishing industry has an adage, “mugs sell mags”, and the US covers have more figurative illustrations, sometimes unhappily so, as with the slightly cheesy cover of Memories of Ice

Erikson described the genesis of the series and Malazan universe in a series of literary role-playing games with fellow archeologist Ian Cameron Esslemont, author of Night of Knives, a novel set in the same universe, also the first in a series. He mentioned he is also working on a series of six novelettes featuring the psychopathic necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach (whom he managed to work into Memories of Ice), from the point of view of their long-suffering manservant. The novelettes will be, in Erikson’s own words, “more over the top”. The first two, Blood Follows and The Healthy Dead have already been published (even if Amazon incorrectly claims the latter not available yet), the third one is coming shortly.

When asked whether he was planning on extending the series beyond the planned ten volumes, he mentioned he had the outline of all ten almost from the very beginning (keep in mind it took him 8 years to get The Gardens of the Moon published, and that only happened after he moved to England). There is still a lot of room for spontaneity — as he puts it, if the author is bored when writing the actual books because he put too much effort in preparatory notes, the readers are likely to be bored as well. Erikson also committed to giving “payback” to his readers for sticking with the story (sounds ominous, doesn’t it?), with some snide remarks referring to Robert Jordan’s ever-lengthening Wheel of Time series. The anecdote he mentioned was that of a 75 year old woman who was asking a bookseller when the next installment by Jordan would be published, because she was afraid she might die before that series was completed… In all fairness, Jordan has announced the next volume will be the last, bringing closure to long-suffering fans.

I asked him about the whole extinction of magic as a moral imperative angle, and he indicated the later volumes in the decalogue would bear on the issue. He also said he is in no way endorsing imperialism (Deadhouse Gates is in part inspired from events in the British Empire’s oppression of India and Afghanistan). I also mentioned how difficult I found the abrupt transition introduced by volume 5, Midnight Tides. He agreed, but it was required by the 10-volume story arc, and postponing it would only make things worse. Among other matters, we will read more of the Forkrul Assail, whom he describes as the nastiest of the four founding races.

As a final note, I have been to book signings with Raymond Feist, Robert Jordan and Steven Erikson, and I am always amazed by the inconsiderate people who come with cartons full of books to sign, presumably to make them more collectible and valuable. The value in these events is in meeting the authors and interacting with them, not in giving them tennis elbow for financial gain.

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