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More about the books I have recommended

Last modified on 06.06.2001 23:57
Donaldson Jordan

Stephen R. Donaldson

An excerpt from the back cover of the first book gives an impression of what to expect:
        He called himself Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever,
        because he dared not believe in this strange alternate
        world on which he suddenly found himself.

        Yet the Land tempted him.  He had been sick; now he seemed
        better than ever before.  Through no fault of his own, he
        had been outcast, unclean, a pariah.
[TC PIC] Covenant is magicked from our world to the Land and is culture-shocked from the beginning. He learns that he - in his world despised and dreaded because of his leprosy - is now considered the Land's greatest hero incarnate, and expected to save or damn the Land from the rising evil. But Covenant couldn't believe in this new world, which is getting more and more real every moment - he thinks he must be either dreaming or going insane and cannot accept the latter alternative. So, his only thought is to escape this all-too-real world before it's too late. What is more, he doesn't want people to expect more of him than he can even dream of achieving.

Some like Covenant's self-loathing and edging toward insanity ("anti-heroism"), others don't. Donaldson also writes using very complex and rare worlds and sentences; I like it. All the same, I think it's worth having a look - you can always discontinue reading after the first book if it feels like it.

An example : Stephen R. Donaldson: Lord Foul's Bane, chapter 2 ("You Cannot Hope"):

    The word carried such authority that Covenant stopped again. He stood still, husbanding his rage, until he felt the man's hand on his arm. Then he turned and looked into pale blue eyes as blank as if they were still studying the secret fire of the sun. The old man was tall with power.
    A sudden insecurity, a sense of proximity to matters he did not understand, disturbed Covenant. But he pushed it away. "Don't touch me. I'm a leper."
    The vacant stare seemed to miss him completely, as if he did not exist or the eyes were blind; but the old man's voice was clear and sure.
    "You are in perdition, my son."
    Moistening his lips with his tongue, Covenant responded, " No, old man. This is normal - human beings are like this. Futile." As if he were quoting a law of leprosy, he said to himself, Futility is the defining characteristic of life. "That's what life is like. I just have less bric-a-brac cluttering up the facts than most people."
    "So young - and already so bitter."
    Covenant had not heard sympathy for a long time, and the sound of it affected him acutely. His anger retreated, leaving his throat tight and awkward. "Come on, old man," he said. "We didn't make the world. All we have to do is live in it. We're all in the same boat - one way or another."
    "Did we not?"
    But without waiting for an answer the beggar went back to humming his weird tune. He held Covenant there until he had reached a break in his song. Then a new quality came into his voice, an aggressive tone that took advantage of Covenant's unexpected vulnerability.
    "Why not destroy yourself?"
    A sense of pleasure expanded in Covenant's chest, cramping his heart. The pale blue eyes were exerting some kind of peril over him. Anxiety tugged at him. He wanted yo jerk away from the old face, go through his VSE, make sure that he was safe. But he could not; the blank gaze held him. Finally, he said, "That's too easy."

Another two interconnected snippets from the same book. Somehow I find this strangely fascinating:

     When Covenant's face reflected his doubt, the Lord said, "I assure you. Perhaps it would be well for you to question Bannor concerning the Bloodguard. His distrust may not distress yyou -- when you have come to understand it. His people are the Haruchai, who live high in the Westron Mountains beyond the passes which we now name Guards Gap. In the first years of Kevin Loric-son's High Lordship they came to the Land -- came, and remained to make a Vow like that swearing which binds even the gods." For a moment, he seemed lost in contemplation of the Bloodguard. "They were a hot-blooded people, strong-loined and prolific, bred to tempest and battle -- and now made by their pledged loyalty ascetic, womanless and old. I tell you Thomas Covenant -- their devotion has had such unforeseen prices -- Such one-mindedness does not come easily to them, and their only reward is the pride of unbroken, pure service. And then to learn the bitterness of doubt --" Mhoram sighed again, then smiled diffidently. "Inquire of Bannor. I am too young to tell the tale aright."

[ Later in the next chapter ]

     Impelled by anger and frustration, Covenant muttered to himself, Keep moving, Survive. "Bannor," he growled, "Mhoram seems to think we should get to know each other. He told me to ask you about the Bloodguard."
     Bannor shrugged as if the were impervious to any question.
     "Your people -- the Haruchai -- Bannor nodded -- "live up in the mountains. You came to the Land when Kevin was High Lord. How long ago was that?"
     "Centuries before the Desecration." The Bloodguard's alien tone seemed to suggest that units of time like years and decades had no significance. "Two thousand years."
     Two thousand years. Thinking of the Giants, Covenant said, "That's why there's only five hundred of you left. Since you came to the Land, you've been dying off."
     "The Bloodguard have always numbered five hundred. That is the Vow. The Haruchai -- are more." He gave the name a tonal lilt that suited his voice.
     "They live up in the mountains as before."
     "Then how do you -- You say that as if you haven't been back there for a long time." Again Bannor nodded slightly. "How do you maintain your five hundred here? I haven't seen any--"
     Bannor interrupted dispassionately. "When one of the Bloodguard is slain, his body is sent into the mountains through Guards Gap, and another of the Haruchai comes to take his place in the Vow."
     Is slain? Covenant wondered. "Haven't you been home since? Don't you visit your-- Do you have a wife?"
     "At one time."
     Bannor's tone did not vary, but something in the inflectionlessness made Covenant feel the question was important. "At one time?" he pursued, "What happened to her?"
     "She has been dead."
     An instinct warned Covenant, but he went on, spurred by the fascination of Bannor's alien, inflexible solidity. "How -- how long ago did she die?"
     Without a flicker of hesitation, the Bloodguard replied, "Two thousand years."
     What! For a long moment, Covenant gaped in astonishment, whispering to himself as if he feared that Bannor could hear him, That's impossible. That's impossible. In an effort to control himself, he blinked dumbly. Two--? What is this?
     Yet in spite of his amazement, Bannor's claim carried conviction. That flat tone sounded incapable of dishonesty, of even misrepresentation. It filled Covenant with horror, with nauseated sympathy. In sudden vision he glimpsed the import of Mhoram's description, made by their pledged loyalty ascetic, womanless, and old. Barren -- could there be any limit to a barrenness which had already lasted for two thousand years? "How," he croaked, "how old are you?"
     "I came to the Land with the first Haruchai, when Kevin was young in High Lordship. Together we first uttered the Vow of service. Together we called upon the Earthpower to witness our commitment. Now we do not return home until we have been slain."
     Two thousand years, Covenant mumbled. Until we have been slain. That's impossible. None of this is happening. In his confusion, he tried to tell himself what he heard was like the sensitivity of his nerves, further proof of the Land's impossibility. But it did not feel like proof. It moved him as if he had learned that Bannor suffered from a rare form of leprosy. With an effort, he breather, "Why?"
     Flatly, Bannor said, "When we came to the Land, we saw wonders -- Giants, Ranyhyn, Revelstone -- Lords of such power that they declined to wage war with us lest we be destroyed. In answer to our challenge, they gave the Haruchai gifts so precious --" He paused, appeared to muse for a momemnt over private memories. "Therefore we swore the Vow. We could not equal their generosity in any other way."

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

Lord Foul's Bane
The Illearth War
The Power that Preserves
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
The Wounded Land
The One Tree
White Gold Wielder
Donaldson has also written a 5-book Gap-series of Sci-fi books. It's the same style (anti-heroes, really bad people etc.) but set in the future; if you like sci-fi, it's definitely worth a read. It isn't "heavy" scifi (like Clarke), so those who normally don't read scifi too much will enjoy it too. Really graphic, violent and intense at times, so if you disliked these partions of Thomas Covenant, you might not like these.

A short chapter from the last book in the series: The Gap into Ruin. Beware of spoilers.

It was typical of his kind that the loss of Soar - and his fellow Amnion aboard - meant nothing to Marc Vestabule.
     The ship itself had been merely a technological artifact: temporarily useful as an ally; ultimately more interesting for the methods of production it represented than for itself. Its human crew was exactly that: human rather than Amnion; significant only because they served the Amnion - and might become available for research. And the Amnion aboard Soar were expendable. The protein soup from which more Amnion might be grown was plentiful: any Amnioni could excrete it by the liter at need. Therefore any individual could be replaced by another with the same abilities and characteristics.
     Even Milos Taverner was not to be lamented, despite his precious heritage. Physically he was a near-perfect transformation; better than Marc Vestabule. The Mind/Union had achieved important advances. But psychologically he was a failed experiment: he had retained too little of his past identity. An Amnioni who appeared human, but who thought, spoke, and acted Amnion, would be too easily detected; therefore useless against humankind.
     Like all his fellows, Marc Vestabule waster neither attention nor emotion on the death of Soar.
     On the other hand, the fact Soar had turned against Calm Horizons required a great deal of attention. Specifically, it required Marc Vestabule's attention. He had been invested with decisiveness aboard Calm Horizons. And he remembered more of his former humanity than any other Amnioni like him.
     Because he remembered, he was not replaceable.
     Sorus Chatelaine's betrayal had been quintessentially human: no Amnioni could have imagined - much less carried out - such an action. Even Marc Vestabule only grasped it with considerable effort. To contemplate its implications caused him a form of nausea so fundamental that it might have been ribonucleic.
     Nevertheless he did contemplate them. The dilemma of Trumpet's escape made that necessary.
     Many of his memories were gone, but he could still recollect the end of his time aboard the human ship he had served, Viable Dreams. He remembered its capture by treachery. He remembered the vindictive fury of the man who had taken it into Amnion space in order to sell its crew: Angus Thermopyle. And he remembered his own desperation --
     The Amnion did not comprehend terror or frenzy. They understood the urgency: they were capable of haste. Their dedication to their own purposes was complete - and completely organic. But they were not genetically encoded for desperation. They could not encompass it.
     Marc Vestabule still did.
     It was the key to understanding humankind. Sorus Chatelaine had betrayed Calm Horizons - despite the dictates of her own self-interest - out of desperation. Similarly, desperation had driven Angus Thermopyle to sell the crew of Viable Dreams: it drove him and his companions aboard Trumpet now. And the results of Soar's treason had been disastrous. Trumpet had fled intact. A UMCP cruiser had received Trumpet's broadcast. Beyound question the outcome of Trumpet's escape would also be disastrous.
     Once the desperation was grasped, the nature of the disaster became possible to imagine.
     Trumpet would approach some large human station - or perhaps Earth itself. Alternatively the small vessel might join forces with its defender, the UMCP cruiser. Then the formula for the mutagen immunity drug would become broadly known. Until a means was devised to circumvent or mask the drug, humankind would be effectively impervious to absorption or transformation.
     That invulnerability might inspire the species to initiate a war: a war of ships and weaponry; a technological war, which the Amnion could not win.
     Yet even if humankind did not react so extremely, they would be forewarned of Amnion researches into near-C acceleration. Given their mechanistic ingenuity, and their vast means of production, they might well design weapons or defenses to counter the greater velocity of future Amnion vessels. They might devise the means to capture such velocities themselves.
     And the effort would be inspired by Calm Horizons' own actions, which they would doubtless consider an act of war, as well as by Trumpet's broadcast.
     Lastly - the heaviest blow - the opportunity which the force-grown template called Davies Hyland represented would be lost. If a human could be made Amnion, and yet retain the ability to speak and act and pass as human, the purposes of the Amnion might be achieved with one stroke. That great accomplishment would make possible a war of infiltration and mutation; a war which humankind could not win.
     Only an opportunity to study Davies Hyland might serve to counter the other harms which Trumpet could do.
     Sorus Chatelaine's, and Angus Thermopyle's, desperation had created a dilemma which none of Marc Vestabule's fellows were equipped to evaluate.
     He had been invested with decisiveness aboard Calm Horizons. After a period of rigorous contemplation - and acute nausea - he concluded that the complex threats of Trumpet's escape could only be answered by an act of even greater desperation.
     He decided nothing in isolation. The air of Calm Horizons was rich with communication of all kinds: information and analysis; emotion and commentary. Pheromones filled with language the sweet atmosphere which the Amnion craved. Marc Vestabule was an Amnioni, alive to the scents and hues of nucleotidal communion; nourished by it.
     Yet he was truly unique among his fellows. Furthermore they all recognized his uniqueness: they recognized its value. Without that recognition he would not have been invested. The conclusions he reached were neither understood nor questioned. By the common consent of the most profound form, his uniqueness was granted scope.
     The risks were great. Indeed, they were vast. If Calm Horizons failed and died, the costs would be terrible. And Marc Vestabule could do nothing to diminish them. Like symbiotic crystalline resonance transmitters, gap courier drones were difficult to grow; hugely expensive in time, effort and expertise. He was fortunate that he had been supplied with the former. He had no access to the latter. Therefore if he acted on his memories of desperation he would be unable to inform or forewarn his kind of their peril.
     Nevertheless when Calm Horizons reentered normal space beyond the Massif-5 system, the defensive turned at once and began spanning the dimensional gap on a direct course for Earth.

Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time is probably one of the most acclaimed series in the fantasy genre. Jordan can use familiar elements to create a very realistic and lovable world with varying, and developing, personalities. What I like in Jordan best is his ability to create different people with different motives - in his books, dozens of other than the main characters have realistic point-of-view's, and I just love reading the world described from people's own (and often rather self-centered and twisted) perspective.

An example of a point of view - Robert Jordan: The Path of Daggers, chapter 28 (Crimsonthorn):

    Riding into Caemlyn, Daved Hanlon could not help thinking what a city for the looting it was. In his years soldiering, he had seen many villages and towns looted, and once, twenty years ago, a great city, Cairhien, after the Aiel left. Strange that all these Aiel had left Caemlyn so apparently untouched, but then, if the tallest towers in Cairhien had not been burning, it might have been hard to know they had been there; plenty of gold, among other things, lying about for the picking up, and plenty of men to do the picking. He could see these broad streets full of horsemen and fleeing people, fat merchants who would give up their gold before the knife touched them in the hope their lives would be spared, slim girls and plump women so terrified when they were dragged into a corner that they could hardly manage to squeal, much less struggle. He had seen those things and done them, and hoped to again. Not in Caemlyn, though, he admitted with a sigh. If the orders that sent him here had been the sort he could disobey, he would have gone where the pickings might not be so rich, but definitely easier to pick.

[ - - later in the same chapter - - ]

    Hanlon was impressed. An Aes Sedai must be harder to break than a plump merchant or his round-cheeked daughter. Still, [Shiaine] had had the help of one of the Chosen, it seemed. Realizing that Shiaine was looking at him, he stopped smiling down at [the Aes Sedai]. His first rule in life was never to offend those the Chosen set above him.
    "Tell me, Hanlon," Shiaine said, "how would you like to put your hands on a queen?"
    He licked his lips in spite of himself. A queen? That, he had never done.

[WOT PIC] The story begins at a remote little village. Tales tell about hardship and war in the outside world but life goes on.. until blood-thirsty monsters from legends come looking for three young men; they have no choice but to flee in the fear of another assault with an Aes Sedai - manipulator and sorceress of a kind - to the strange world. Little by little they and their companions learn that they are somehow special and their destiny and importance begins to unfold as they go on and on...

Please note, though, that upon first reading you probably won't appreciate much the beginning - the first book. The characters may seem act a bit stupidly and the book seems to be all about fleeing and fleeing... But, believe me, when you have read the whole series, you will see it from an entirely different perspective.

My Wheel of Time links

The Wheel of Time

The Eye of the World
The Great Hunt
The Dragon Reborn
The Shadow Rising
The Fires of Heaven
Lord of Chaos
A Crown of Swords
The Path of Daggers
Winter's Heart
[ The series isn't finished.  There will be at least three books yet. ] 

The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time (GUIDE) by Robert Jordan and Teresa Patterson, contains good illustrations New Spring A ~80-page novella set 20 years past; included in Legends by Robert Silverberd (edited)


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