Steven Erikson: On Compassion, Completing Malazan, and Looking Toward the Future

As many of you know, our ongoing Malazan Reread recently reached the end of The Crippled God, the final novel in the series. To mark the occasion, author Steven Erikson graciously offered to participate in a Q&A covering both the novel and the series as a whole.

You can read the entirety of the discussion here, but for those who might have missed it, we wanted to share the following statement from Steven, addressing all the fans who’ve followed the series, as well as our intrepid Tor.com rereaders, Bill Capossere and Amanda Rutter.

 

Hello everyone and congratulations to all of you who have hung in there right through to the series end. It was quite a journey for me and, hopefully, the same for you. When I look back on how and where and when it all began, I could not have imagined the effect The Malazan Book of the Fallen would have on so many people. That said, every author dreams of such a future, one in which what one writes has meaning for other people. But such notions are always vague, obscured by all the intangibles of something that hasn’t happened yet.

One of those intangibles is the invitation that arrives, beginning in a tentative trickle and then becoming a steady flood, for the author to converse with his or her readers, which at first seems daunting, only to then become essential. I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to engage with you all, via this screen and Tor.com, as well as via your emails to me through StevenErikson.com. While I may not be able to respond to each and every one of you (I’d never get any work done), be assured that I appreciate your reaching out to me.

These days, the Malazan Book of the Fallen hovers in my wake—to glance back over a shoulder is to see it looming behind me, a mountain I already climbed, its shadow thrown out over me and for miles ahead. It may well be a shadow I never emerge from. You know, this damned series should probably have been my last work as an author, assembled as a final sounding note to a long career. Instead, it started it.

Shit. ’Cause here’s the thing: what do I do for an encore? Is one even possible? That series bled me dry. It took every emotion within me and pounded each one into submission. Writing it felt like more than one lifetime: it felt like hundreds of lifetimes, all crowded into a single place and a single time, crunched and compacted but not one losing a single detail of its veracity. In that way, I died and was reborn a thousand times in these ten novels, and I wonder now how many times a single soul can go through that, without losing something, without the colours starting to fade.

And that’s the shadow. And it’s also why I try to avoid glancing back over a shoulder. So, I’m proud of Forge of Darkness. I’m satisfied with what I’ve done to date on Fall of Light. I expect Walk in Shadow to conclude the trilogy as it should. I spin round the rim of Willful Child, a part of me desperate to plunge into that vortex of absurdity again, and yet again. It beckons like a lifeline to some new iteration of me as a writer, less of the weary dismissive wave than the gesture of something close to defiance.

Compassion is a plea. I voiced it through ten straight novels. Of that (and as I see that virtue die day by day around me, in that depressing deluge of despair and stupidity we call the News), I have nothing left to give. Now don’t take that as self-pity. It isn’t. It would be without the existence of the Malazan Book of the Fallen (for me, that is). But the series does exist, and in it I said everything I had to say, in as many ways of saying it as I could. That voice has run its course. And I know, for good or ill, that it was the best I could do, and if that isn’t good enough, then nothing is.

And maybe that’s another part of that shadow. The whispering thought: maybe nothing is. Good enough, I mean. A notion leading me back, yet again, to my ongoing reconciliation with failure. Compassion as a plea is actually a complicated idea. It demands so much of the reader (and so many rejected the request, as was and is their right, and for me, no harm no foul) and then, when the reader accepts, it demands still more of them. Sure, the plot says ‘engage your brain for this: you’ll need it’ but the story says ‘now engage your feelings, and yes, if I can, I will make you cry, and grieve, and, hopefully, come out the other side feeling strangely elated, with life shining a bit brighter than it did before.’ It’s a big ask, because it wants your trust, and the only trust I could offer in return was this promise: It will work out in the end. We will end up in a place, open and solemn and brimming with love. Because (and this is so obvious and so simple it hurts to say it) you can’t know compassion without love. Of course, the only way for me to say that was to assure you all that I knew what I was doing, and where I was going. But sometimes that’s not enough.

There was no primer on how to read this series. Maybe there should have been one. But the only primer I came up with was Gardens of the Moon, the novel itself. Talk about piling on, huh? That said, it was also my primer.

My deep appreciation goes to Amanda and Bill. Between the two of them, only Bill knew what he was getting into. So kudos to Amanda, especially since she hated the first few chapters of Gardens of the Moon. I always looked forward to her surprise, her responses to the unexpected—it’s easy for re-readers to forget, but each scene and each novel was written to an audience that did not know what to expect, lending a purity to its response (and this is most relevant regarding Hetan’s hobbling and her rebirth, but of that, more later). At the same time, yes, I did my best to make sure there was enough meat on the bones for re-reads.

And for Bill, thank you for plunging right into theme and subtext, and for assuming that I knew what I was up to (believe me, I never got that at Iowa!). My ideal audience is the one whose radar is inclined in that direction, and who holds to that faith in an author, unless and until proved otherwise—and it seems you held to that faith all the way through (barring a few hiccups on my part, mea culpa and all that), and each time you ventured into that territory, it was so gratifying to see other readers chime in. There have been some great discussions and debates throughout this (Re)Read.

This is not to imply that I am disappointed in readers who read just for the prospect of being entertained, or propelled along a plot or storyline. I’m not disappointed at all, probably because I laid traps for you time and time again, pits for your unwary headlong rush—the plunge intended to make you feel whether you wanted to or not. With luck, you stepped into a few of those. If I was a god, I’d throw you into every one of them, but I’m not (lucky you!).

Now, here’s my usual overlong preamble, before getting to these questions. So, here we go

 

Many thanks again to Steven for sharing his thoughts and reflections with us! You can find the Malazan Reread in its entirety here , and please join us in January as Bill and Amanda embark on the next stage of their journey…

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