I missed this news from a couple of weeks ago: Tor has announced that A Memory of Light, the final Wheel of Time book, is going to be split into three volumes. A Memory of Light Part 1: The Gathering Storm is due on November 3, 2009. Working titles for the others are AMOL Part 2: Shifting Winds and AMOL Part 3: Tarmon Gai’don.

Author Brandon Sanderson, finishing the book from Robert Jordan’s manuscript and notes, explains how the decision was made: basically, it was turning into a 750,000-word novel. Consider that 250,000 is seriously long already, and Nanowrimo considers just 50,000 to be the lower limit. So we’re talking the equivalent of 15 Nanowrimo Novels. Not only would it need the proverbial luggage cart, but he wouldn’t be able to finish and revise it in time for a 2009 release. They figured 2011 at the earliest.

So they’re splitting it into three physical books, the first coming out in 2009 as promised to fans, and the others following — one hopes — in 2010 and 2011.

On one hand, I’m annoyed. I thought we were one book away from the finale. I thought we were only going to have one book worth of material polished by another author. And suddenly the single $25–30 purchase for one hardcover is turning into a probable total of $90 (over the course of several years, sure, but still…). Regardless of the actual reasons, it feels like a money-grab by the publisher trying to squeeze two more books out of a dead author’s fan base.

On the other hand… I’m not exactly surprised. Given the sheer amount of detail in Robert Jordan’s magnum opus, the number of open plot threads, and the scale of building up to full-on Armageddon, I think I’d rather see everything handled properly than get the Cliff Notes version of the series conclusion.

Listening to “Into the West” (end credits song from Lord of the Rings: Return of the King). Lyric, “Across the sea a pale moon rises.”

It’s all about crossing the sea into the west to go to elf heaven. Presumably the speaker is standing at the Grey Havens, waiting for the ships to arrive and carry her off to the Undying Lands, looking across the sea…to the west.

So since when does the moon rise in the west?

Admittedly, it’s a fantasy setting, but Middle Earth is set up to be a mythical past for the real world, so I’m fairly certain the sun and moon still rise in the east…

Well, it took 2½ months during which I took breaks to read at least three other books, but this weekend I finally finished the first book of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic, A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones.

A Game of ThronesBy all rights I should have liked this book. I frequently like big epic fantasy: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Greg Keyes’ Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Actually, Wheel of Time is probably the best comparison, given the sweeping scope of the series, the number of viewpoint characters, the emphasis on political intrigue, and the length of the books.

On the other hand, no Robert Jordan book has taken me longer than a month to read.

About a year ago, a friend recommended the books to Katie, and gave her the series so far (4 books) for Christmas. It took a while before she got to them, but when she did, she tore through them in about a week. (It helped that she had the free time.) She recommended them to me, but I didn’t pick up the first book until sometime last November.

And I just couldn’t get into it. The characters I found most interesting seemed to get the least attention. Of those, one character’s chapters were difficult to read because she’s in the wrong genre: a girl of 10(?) who wants to grow up to be a warrior princess in a world that would casually kill her before she had the chance. And while I’m sure it’s a matter of morally gray=interesting, it’s basically “Kingdom of A—holes” (maybe not as poetic as “The Knights Who Say F—” but more accurate, at least for the first book). The only adult character who isn’t morally gray or worse is so stuck on honor that he can’t handle the compromises necessary in politics. So it’s not so much a question of who’s the best choice to be in charge, as who’s the least bad.

The first book is about 95% straight medieval-setting political/military drama, with hints at supernatural elements here and there. The prologue sets up an otherworldly menace that is subsequently ignored for most of the book, there’s the occasional sword described as magic, it gradually becomes clear that the dragons are a historical fact, rather than legends (the previous king had dragon skulls mounted along the walls of the throne room) and that seasons frequently last years. “Winter is coming” is a key phrase, and the motto of the family that provides all but two of the viewpoint characters.

After 400 pages of tedious setup establishing just how brutish, brattish, or manipulative everyone is, things start going off the rails. And boy, do they go off the rails. You know how, when reading a book, you get to a point where you figure it can’t get worse? It does. Repeatedly.

About 200 pages from the end I decided I was going to make an effort to finish the book and get it out of the way. So I had a marathon reading session one Sunday, then made an effort to read during lunch over the next week, and then finally finished it over this past weekend. (For contrast, with each of the first two or three Wheel of Time books, when I got within 150 or 200 pages of the end I had to finish, even if it meant staying up until 2am on a work night.)

Actually I guess it’s kind of like some of the later Wheel of Time books in terms of sheer detail and trudgery. Except those have the advantage that you’ve probably read the earlier ones, which were quite good. (I’ve often described the WoT series as 5 novels of one book each followed by one novel that spans 7 books.)

The last 50 pages or so, particularly the final chapter, are considerably more interesting. If it had stopped at 750 pages, I’d probably be inclined to just leave it there, but I might actually pick up the second book at this point.

Just not now. For now, I’m picking up Julie Czerneda’s stand-alone In the Company of Others.

The Value of Space Exploration, via Phil Plait’s response.

Neil Gaiman on The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, a painting by a madman that’s inspired its share of stories.

And from Comics Worth Reading, our WTF entry for the day: Paradise by the GoPhone Light. It’s a commercial done in the style of a music video, featuring Meat Loaf and Tiffany as the parents of a kid who wants a GoPhone. Completely surreal, especially once the random explosions start.

It’s just occurred to me that, aside from it being some sort of cell phone, I have no idea what a GoPhone is. [/me types “gophone” into Google] Ah, OK. Pre-paid cellphone. Meh. (And now I’m imagining how much spam is going to get posted to this thread. *sigh* )

The Born QueenWe’ve both finished reading The Born Queen, the conclusion to Greg Keyes’ The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone. Yesterday we spent the day reading in tandem on the couch: I read book 3, Katie read book 4, and finished within an hour of each other. Determined to catch up, I read 100 pages last night and spent this morning and afternoon reading the final book.

It was well worth the wait.

The series is set two millennia after humans, led by Virginia Dare (explaining where the lost Roanoke colonists went), overthrew the demonic race that had kept them as slaves for generations. Virginia had discovered how to harness the sedos power, essentially magic. The last of humanity’s oppressors warned them that the sedos would eventually destroy their world. Of course, no one believed him.

2200 years later, this corner of the world is not unlike Europe in the early Renaissance. Except that the church is based on the sedos, in the person of saints, and its priests walk the paths to harness the sedos powers.

The world is also beginning to rot. Things of nature are dying, human alliances are crumbling, and terrible creatures thought to be myth are walking the earth. There are several factions who claim that they want to save it, but their true goals are suspect, and their methods differ greatly. The various viewpoint characters are thrust into the middle of things without any real sense of what’s going on: a holter, a princess, a novice priest, a knight, a swordsman, a composer and a queen.

One of the things I find so fascinating about this series (as I mentioned when I first read The Blood Knight) is the fact that everyone is acting on partial information. This makes them screw up, sometimes mildly, sometimes horrifically. And there’s a curveball that comes about 1/3 of the way into The Born Queen that turns everything on its head.

I don’t think it’ll give too much away to say that one of the key struggles in this book is for control of the sedos. Even 100 pages from the end, I wasn’t sure which faction would give the world a better chance of surviving.

Music also figures importantly, starting with the second book, where it’s learned that certain combinations of sound can have a profound effect on the human psyche. I found myself wondering whether Keyes had someone set any of the songs to music.

By the end of The Born Queen, most of the major questions about what’s really going on have been answered. Of course, they’re answered in pieces, by different characters with different agendas. The major characters’ arcs reach (mostly) satisfying conclusions, with some finding what they want, some finding what they need, some doing what needs to be done, and some getting what they deserve.

It’s weird to finally be done with the series, which started around the same time as this blog. The first post that I made that wasn’t “Hey, look! I have a blog!” was a review of The Waterborn and The Blackgod, Greg Keyes’ first novel and its sequel. In it, I mentioned looking forward to The Briar King when it came out.