I’ve never picked up his stuff, mostly because I’m forever whittling down a massive backlog, but someone finally tried explaining the appeal of Brandon Sanderson to me. I’m not sold.
The person’s love for his books, namely the Stormlight Archive series, stemmed from his non-traditional style. I was not aware he had one, much less that he departed from the norms of door-stopper fantasy, but I’ll try to do it justice. The story is non-linear, you see, and kept interesting despite the lack of purposeful plot by a complex and interesting cast of characters. They talk like real people, take coherent and deliberate action in a richly imagined world that tries its best to match the depth of our own.
“No one knows where it’s going,” the fanboy doth told me. “But you don’t care, because everything else is so good. I mean, he writes women better than most women do.” I was forced to call bullshit, as I’ve tried to get into him multiple times, but that might come later and in another post.
Leaving alone what I think of Sanders’ work on its own, I was left wondering the merit of his narrative style as it was relayed to me. I wasn’t surprised, given the length of his books, but their success hints at the continuity of a phenomenon local to fantasy as a genre. That is, huge tomes comprised of meandering plots and info dumps with little purpose for the form. Usually when these sorts of things are encountered in the literary wild (I’m looking at you, David Foster Wallace), there’s some narrative purpose behind it. It’s an instrument or an element of the author’s style. Not so with most works of fantasy.
In fact, the proliferation of the practice in the genre runs contrary to most norms or givens of quality in traditional literature. “Show, don’t tell” certainly goes out the window with most fantasy as a determination of skill. Yet its transgressors achieve critical acclaim and success, which I do not brook them. It’s almost as if there’s an entrenched construct of what the genre’s consumers and thus critics (by extension of capital) consider quality but which is not quality in and of itself. That might be getting a little off course, though.
I personally don’t see the merit of wayward narrative and textbook-dense explanations, even from the perspective of entertainment, and I read translated primary historical sources for kicks. I just can’t help but feel that it is what we do in limitation that shows prowess, the restraint we show to the reader, and door-stopper fantasy elicits even from its fans a groan of persistence rather than enjoyment. Then again, maybe everyone knows something I don’t. Maybe I’m a scrooge, too young. All I know is, I’m going to give the guy another damn shot the next time in the aisle.