Geek Girls Rule! #66 – George R. R. Martin -v- Steven Erikson: Steel Cage Death Match

OK, not really.  It would be kind of funny, but I’m pretty sure Erikson would own Martin.  He’s younger and probably in better shape. 

So, ages ago when the Game of Thrones series was in its relative youth, Mr. Geek Girl What Rules got hooked.  And, as is our want, when one of us gets really interested in books, the other one will eventually pick them up and give them a try.   So I pick up the first book and start reading.  About a quarter of the way through it I gave up.  Honestly, with the exception of Arya (the younger daughter) I couldn’t give two shits whether any of those characters lived or died.  Seriously, I just didn’t care, and when you don’t care what happens to the characters it’s hard to maintain interest in a book regardless of how clever the plot may be.  I mean, even the villains were so over-the-top characatured that I just didn’t buy them.  Seriously, how long am I supposed to sit around watching what’s-his-butt (Tyrion) twirl his metaphorical mustache?  Not to mention, with the exception of the aforementioned Arya, all of the female characters had less depth than your average teaspoon, and were either completely useless (Sansa) or manipulative and conniving (everyone else) or a combination of both (the mom). 

When the Mister picked up the Malazan books at the urging of a club regular, I was dubious at best.  I had been burned by Mr. Martin, and was not eager to pick up another, ultimately, disappointing book.  However, the Mister was so enthusiastic about it, gushing about it constantly, even more than with the Martin books.  So I caved. 

I loved Gardens of the Moon.  I could not get enough.  Erikson does not rely on the cheap tactic of cliffhangers to keep you interested, but you WANT to know more about what happens to these people.  You care.  I finished Gardens of the Moon and immediately went in search of the next books in the series.  He even has fully realized female characters who are actors in fate, not just its victims, as well as male characters who get to act.  The first two books made me sniffle and cry a little, but the end of book three made me sob openly while I finished it.  Since then, I find myself sobbing more often than not during the climaxes of Erikson’s books.  Last night, finishing up Toll the Hounds was no exception.  I stayed up past my bedtime, sniffling, snuffling and sobbing on the couch wiping my eyes with one hand and turning pages with the other. 

See, Erikson kills characters as often as Martin, well, nearly as often.  But in my opinion he does it better.  You even care when the rat bastards die.  And he kills a lot of characters that you love.  A lot.  The Chain of Dogs in books two and three (edited to fix because I should not rely on Wikipedia entries instead of going back and figuring it out myself) springs readily to mind here.  But let me get back to the rat bastards.  See, villains who have no redeeming features whatsoever are A. unrealistic and B. boring.  And Martin’s work is full of them.  Shit, even Hitler loved children and dogs.  I’m sure Idi Amin loved his mother or something.  Granted, there are a couple of just plain evil characters in the Erikson books, but they tend to die quickly.  Gorlas Vidikas springs readily to mind, as does Venaz.  But for the most part Erikson’s villains are just as nuanced as his heroes, and his everyman characters who want to be neither but wind up sucked into the machinations of the gods. 

Both men have very lushly realized and described worlds.  Martin’s falls into the “pseudo-Medieval Europe” trap of most conventional fantasy.  Erikson’s has many, many worlds reflecting different types of societies and stages of civilization, from the stone/bronze age barbarity of the Toblakai, to the Middle Eastern flavor of Darujhistan and the Seven Cities to the alien culture of the K’Chain Che Malle and the Byzantine society of Letheras. 

Ok, I realize… I’m gushing.  A lot.  I’m a total gribbling fangirl for Steven Erikson, and when I met him at his Seattle book signing in September, it was all I could do not to squeal like an idiot.  The Mister didn’t trust himself to not become a drooling fanboy, and so left me to get the books signed.  Sigh.  However, it was nice that when I told him that we appreciated his scope of history and the way his societies were built, us being history majors, HE got excited about that, asking if we’d figured out which battles were based on historical battles of our world.  The Boy and I frequently, once he finished books, discuss which battles remind us of which historical battles, so it was just cool.  EEEEEEEE!!!

So as far as I’m concerned, that steel cage death match?  Erikson wins hands down.  I realize Martin has the sales, but popular does not necessarily mean good.  Hell, Dan Brown was on the best seller list for how long with The DaVinci Code? (Speaking of poorly crafted characters.)  

I highly recommend the Malazan books to anyone who loves epic fantasy.

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13 thoughts on “Geek Girls Rule! #66 – George R. R. Martin -v- Steven Erikson: Steel Cage Death Match

  1. Aside from The Mountain which is just flat crazy, the others have redeeming qualities. There is one other without apparent redeeming qualities, but since we barely see him, it’s probably because we just don’t know him.

    About conniving females? The males seem just as conniving to me.

    Also, wont.

  2. I’m with Guy: Over the course of the Martin series, there are few irredeemable characters. “A Game of Thrones” is a little slanted to the perspective of the Starks and the Targaryens. Which makes a certain sense since the series revolves around telling stories from individual points of view. But as the books progress differing points of view come into play and villains you absolutely hated in earlier books become understandable.

    I have adored most of the characters from the Martin books. I’m halfway through the second Erickson book and I’m… eh, with the characters. I have a couple characters that I’m fond of, but I’m not the gushing fan that others I know have become. I’m enjoying them enough to keep reading them, though.

  3. I think a lot of my squee has to do with the fact that Erikson actually knows how societies and history work. It’s something I struggle with in my own writing.

  4. Interesting. I have not read anything from Erikson. However, our household had exactly the same experience as yours regarding A Game of Thrones, etc.: my mister adored the series, I tried it, and had to give up after reading a significant chunk and deciding I really couldn’t care less about any of these people.

    Now I’ll have to look up the Gardens of Moon books. 🙂

  5. The Malazan Books of the Fallen. They’re up to #8.

    One thing I like about them is the lack of sexism. When we played a campaign in the Game of Thrones world, I pretty much had to play a male character because the world was not conducive to active female characters. Erikson’s world has a whole lot of very active female characters and I love that.

  6. Hm, there is certainly seperationism, but I wouldn’t say there’s nothing for females to do.

    It is more of two worlds, and thus two games, which rarely interact. I need to elaborate on this thought about Sexism and Different Areas. I have something interesting to say about it, if I dare say so myself.

  7. If you couldn’t find any depth to the characters, either A) you didn’t read much or B) you weren’t paying attention to what you were reading. This was always to be a long-arcing series; no author starting one is just going to hand you a completely fleshed-out, character with depth to rival the Mariana Trench in the first half of the first freaking book.

    I find this, and the other blogger recently bitching about sexism and lack of awesome females in the Song of Ice and Fire series, hilarious, because WOMEN become the biggest characters, and arguably the most important ones, in the freaking series.

    If anyone who actually got to the end of GoT wasn’t invested in at least one character…it’s either willful denial or Scifi/fantasy just isn’t your thing. In fact, Martin could have left out the whole scifi part of the series, and it would still be a damn good read.

    Oh, and in case anyone is ambivalent or needs to know, I’m a girl. A card-carrying “sexism and perpetuated stereotypes aren’t cool” girl.

  8. really? way faaaaaaaaaaaaar better?[sic]
    surely its waaaaaaaaay far berrerer?

    ps erikson melts martins face off in a cage duel 1st round

  9. Yes, I, the woman who runs a blog called Geek Girls Rule! and has a HUGE SF/F library, and loves the Erikson Malazan books, Asimov, McCafferey, and whose happiest moment was running into Poul Anderson in an elevator at a convention doesn’t like or understand SF/F.

    Do you have any idea how stupid that is?

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