Nov 18 2011 1:00pm

Ask Steven Erikson Your House of Chains Questions!

Now that Amanda and Bill have concluded their reread of House of Chains, we’re opening up the floor to Malazan series author Steven Erikson for your House of Chains-related questions!

The procedure is the same as it was when Gardens of the Moon, Night of Knives, Deadhouse Gates, and Memories of Ice were wrapped up. Post your questions to Steven in the open thread below and they’ll be answered by the author himself! Keep in mind that the timing of the answers is subject to Steven’s schedule.

There are no strict guidelines for questions, but concise and well-composed questions are always best!

UPDATE: Steve’s answers can be found here

(Also, congratulations to Amanda Rutter on her recent announcement!)

1. djk1978
Hi Steven, thanks for taking the time to join us again. I know our discussion on ch. 25 is going to raise at least one question for you but I'll let someone else ask it.

I have more generic questions (and I apologize in advance if you have answered them before elsewhere).

1) Book 1 marks a sort of style change in that we get Karsa's story and only Karsa's story for a long time. Was that just a result of needing to catch up his character to the rest of the story or a conscious decision to have the reader develop a position on Karsa? It could be both of those, and indeed more but it's something that almost all readers notice.

2) People who have read the full series seem to agree that the story really begins in House of Chains and that the 3 earlier books lay a foundation for the launch of that arc. Would you agree with that or are we readers giving Gardens of the Moon, Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice too short of shrift there.?

2. amphibian
Did creating the layered backstory of the Silanda amuse you as much as it did us readers? Was Karsa always in the planning as the one to board and leave it derelict?

Why did you choose to make Bidithal so unrepentantly evil?

A good deal of your books show the growth and development over considerable time of an array of characters from the gods, ascendants, mages, soldiers and regular people (the non-Malazan books). Do you believe that people in real life (our world) are capable of such development? Is it still possible for someone not born with a silver spoon in their mouths to become a Karsa - metaphorically speaking, rather than in actuality?

Will you please high-five Richard Morgan the next time you see him? The Cold Commands is spectacular.
Iris Creemers
3. SamarDev
Thanks for being here again to give us the opportunity to ask you some questions!

In chapter 25 we have had a lengthy discussion about whether the ‘object’ Lostara Yil found and gave to Cotillion, was the same as the acorn which was dropped on Kalam’s head, which he used in turn to call on Quick Ben when the need was high.
Lostara reached into the pouch and tossed a small object towards him.
He caught it in one hand and peered down to study it.
'I assumed that was yours,' she said.
'No, but I know to whom it belongs. And am pleased. May I keep it?'
We wondered if so, how did she made the connection between QB's acorn and Cotillion, who would be able to provide it in time (back?) to Kalam? Because the kind of attraction Quick Ben and her had singing between them, long ago in the night the Shadow-cult was destroyed? (To name one of the suggested explanations). It is difficult to summarize the discussion we had…

I know plot-questions aren’t the most interesting questions, and it is difficult to go into detail into the plot of a book you wrote this long ago, but is it possible for you to say something about this?
Iris Creemers
4. SamarDev
I've another question, about the sisters.
In DG we learn already in the prologue to despise Tavore (who would ever send her/his own sister to the mines to assure your new employer you’re loyal?!). But, it becomes very hard as well to sympathize with Felisin, because she grows so bitter due to her ordeals.
In HoC we first really meet Tavore, though not by POV. The image we get now isn’t of a woman so cruel as we thought before, even though we still don’t know why she is doing the things she is doing. And with Felisin switching in-and-out of influence of the Goddess, it becomes easier to feel for her once more. In the end, they meet again, with a very tragic outcome.

Do you plan (character)developments and outcomes like these well in advance (in this case, 2 books before), or do they develop more ‘on the road’?
karl oswald
5. Toster
Strange... i guess my post must not have met somebodys standards, cuz it seems to have disappeared... which is fine, because Samar summarized the discussion much better than I had.

I'll just ask a question that has become something of a pressing issue for some over at the Malazanempire forums. Will Torvald Nom and Karsa finally reunite, whether in Cam's Orb, Sceptre, Throne, or your own planned Karsa Trilogy? Their relationship and it's development through HoC was a delight, and I credit Torvald for teaching Karsa a little humility. I think it would be a shame if they never met up again.
Robin Lemley
6. Robin55077
As always, Steven, thank you very much for taking time from your schedule to answer these questions.

I will ellaborate a bit more on SamarDev's question above. I assume that when you wrote that scene where Lostara picked up an item and then later gave it to Cotillion, you had a very specific item in mind.

1. Did you purposely leave the knowledge of exactly what that item was so open to interpretation by the reader, or, did you in fact feel that the specific item was so obvious, any more talk about it would have been redundit?

2. Not that I expect that you sit at home waiting to log in to read all our posts, but this "item" was one of the most discussed topics in our re-read of HoC. With all of the great things in HoC, did you foresee that this would be a topic that would be discussed in such depth?

On a more personal note, I wanted to say that I absolutely loved the fact that you took the 14th north along Coltaine's trail south, allowing us to reconnect with Coltaine and the 7th. Tavore & Nok could have landed the 14th much closer to Raraku and not had to take that long march, but your choice to march them all the way from Aren was excellent, in my humble opinion. What a great way to keep the emotion created in DG "alive" within the larger arcs of the story.

Joe Long
7. Karsa
Why was Karsa able to so easily kill the Hounds of Darkness? is this something unique to Karsa, or is there something about how the world has changed and that what was once elite is now not so much? there seems to be a lot of debate amongst us fans about this kind of thing and I'm hoping you'll weigh in on it...

My second questions is about the nature of "demons" -- are "demons" simply creature from another warren? (e.g. in the eyes of the beholder), or is there something else to it?
Bill Capossere
8. Billcap
Hi Steven,
Thanks as always for taking the time to answer our questions.

A few questions of my own
We’ve discussed how much bricklaying is done in this series and how much is prefigured or echoed. I’m curious not as to the creation mode of this (I assume some is purposeful, some is just swimming in the ocean of this world, and some pure coincidence), but to the afterword. Do you ever go back, either while writing or once the book is completed, and try to figure out if there is too much or too little? To be more concrete, do you take a look and ever say to yourself, “well, perhaps 28 mentions of ‘chains’ in two pages is a bit much,” or “maybe ‘As the army drew ever closer, Tavore oddly kept having visions of her sister Felisin lying in a pool of blood screaming Tavore’s name’ might be too much on the nose”? Or to the contrary, do you ever think you need to pump up some foreshadowing or thematic imagery: “I’ll toss a ‘chain’ here, a ‘link’ over there, maybe a ‘shackle over there . . . “?

On an emotional level, knowing what you know as you write scenes with Felisin for instance, especially toward the end (in our recap of 26 I listed a bunch of to me highly moving lines), are you in author neutral mode—coldly calculating—or do those lines hurt you as much to write as they do us to read?

I’ve pointed out in the reread that for all the reputation these books have as being opaque or overly difficult, it appears to me that what may have seemed such at first is often (not always) in short order explained in much more clear fashion by another viewpoint, or by a character learning more. Do you see that? Is this sort of thing purposeful?
9. Abalieno
I debated with myself whether to take advantage of this Q&A or not and decided to try anyway. I'm out of the loop with HoC because I didn't participate with the reread this time. In the meantime I read "This River Awakens" and I was amazed. This book got me emotionally in a way that the Malazan series did not, and I think no other book I've read in my life matched. I imagine how infuriating can be this thing I'm about to say, but I sincerely believe that everything you wrote afterwards, those three million words (or the half I already read), didn't quite match that masterpiece that is this book. Certainly not disappearing in the shadow of that bigger mountain of books.

I wanted to ask two things specifically about this book, the first is when did you actually write it? That's because I'd so easily believe this is your most recent work if I didn't know it was published one year before GotM. The prose is so good, much better than GotM, and I'd say the followings too. But the year of GotM publication doesn't say the truth about when it was written, and this also explains why many of us think DG is much improved.

The second question is about what kind of revisions you made (or restored) to the version coming out in January. The copy I was able to find is an used one, so the old version, and the book was so perfect that I wouldn't dare change a line. So I'm curious about what kind of compromises it went through. I fear a bit about the 1st person PoV in there that I liked quite a lot (and the interplay it creates).

And a consideration: I've listened to that recent podcast/interview. The things you discuss that are at the core of the Malazan series (the culling, selection, being in the head of other people when you talk about Kruppe and the cypher, the reader doing the Hero's journey, the way the story only exist because of readers outside of it, Itkovian as a symbol, appearing, suprisingly, in both Malazan and This River Awakens), all these are also at the center of "This River Awakens". It was amazing for the effect the book had on me and because how deeply it connects with Malazan. And surprising because if one collects the motivations of those who rejected GotM (prose, characters, cause/effect of plot, the reader feeling left out, cold and not welcomed in the story) are all aspects that are turned into the very strengths of This River Awakens. Great prose and description, amazing, deep characters, a story that eases its way without ever rising walls to the reader. The same writer doing what almost appears the opposite side of the spectrum.

In fact I would now suggest first time readers (or those who were disappointed) to read this book before starting reading Malazan: it would easily clean the way of all prejudices and common excuses when it is criticized, easing the path for what the Malazan series is then set to do. It shows clearly the kind of writer you are and that one has to knowingly dig to find in GotM (I had written 'dig knowingly' but I heard Tehol make fun of me).

And I have a nagging question about HoC too, the very end: "This is how, in the cadence of our voice, we serve nature's greatest need. Facing nature, we are the balance. Ever the balance to chaos."

The first time I read it I thought that humanity was seen as "alien" to nature (both intended as the abstract idea and the planet, with humanity seen as hostile to the hive), instead of being part of its system as it's universally believed today. In that equation, "humanity" was an external force, opposing nature itself. Nature being also chaos, intending chaos as the lack of "meaning", patterns unrecognized (not written), and humanity as the "actor" drawing/writing a sense, carving it into senseless nature. We are the observer that, in the act of observation, so the culling and selection, writes and determines a path. Whatever is nature is also chaos, because we can't even know its depths.

But I think the actual meaning goes a step further. The system doesn't pose humanity against nature, since it's nature that works balance in itself, and humanity couldn't even be a necessary variable. Humanity is after all only one tiny part of nature, probably not indispensable. But how do you see this apparent contradiction between humanity being "outside" nature and it being also caged within and (obviously) subject to its whims? Because the Malazan series is both about that act of writing I've explained above, as much as the mockery of the egocentrism, sense of superiority and certainty we all have. Certainty that could (and probably will) be wiped off with just a shrug, by nature.
Steven Halter
10. stevenhalter
In HoC, we meet Calm trapped beneath a rock. We have also seen Jaghuts imprisoned this way. There are also the multiple creatures imprisoned by the Azaths. In the storyline, the reason given is that the being so imprisoned would have been too costly to kill outright.
My question is if the costly part is in terms of actually killing them or the repercussions of having them dead might cause at that point?
In other words is it that the killing is so hard or that constraining the power is the preferred solution?
Robin Lemley
11. Robin55077
Another question:

Thoughout the entire book, Nil and Nether are so deeply buried in their grief over the loss of Coltaine and all the other Wickans (and, I think, the 7th as well) that they are basically ineffectual as mages to Tavore. It is only at the very end of the book, after the night when the ghosts of Raraku rise, they realize that the souls of the dead were collected during the march north. More importantly I think, is that they realize that they were so buried in their grief that they (the two greatest Wickan mages alive) did not even notice it was happening.

I believe it is at this point that Nil and Nether finally begin to heal. I also felt that this is the point in the series where you are telling the reader that it is now time to heal. That it is okay to let go of that grief. As if you are telling us, don't ever forget the Chain of Dogs, but not to be so lost in our grief over that event that we miss what else is going on around us.

Was this done by you on purpose, or is it just my "school-girl crush" on your writing skills that I am attributing this to you?

I have stated a number of times in posts that no other writer has ever made me so eager to analyze each line of text as you have, but I have not yet told you that directly. I really enjoy having to "work for it," and your allowing me to participate. I want to take this opportunity to say thank you for allowing me (the reader) to take part in the story.

Sydo Zandstra
12. Fiddler
I will post my questions soon, probably tomorrow (it's late here atm).

@Abalieno: will you please refrain from going into a debate again this time when SE answers you?

Because of that whole debate last time SE missed my question, which means I have to ask it here again.

Thank you. :)
13. amphibian
There's often an "us vs. them" mindsets between loyalists of Fantasy Series X and Fantasy Series N. It's somewhat odd and many authors have suggested that perhaps different series hit different buttons and that getting along would be a better idea. That's sensible, but I ask you to temporarily abandon that for a moment.

Now, Steve, which series of books or author would you actually want your readers to have a feud with? The feud could be friendly and competitove or as knock-down drag-out as you like.
jonathan Sheridan
14. Sheruman
Hi Stephen thanks for taking the time to answers these questions,
I was wondering were there any plans to convert your books to audio,as I would love to go through the series again on my daily commute to work
15. Jordanes

I have a question about a relatively minor character who got me intrigued in his story: Damisk of Greydog, Silgar's sword-for-hire.

I found it interesting how he was presented, when we first see him, as a survivor, a pragmatist, and unafraid in the face of danger. Yes, he ran from Karsa and co. to save himself, but he was also able to evade these skilful trackers and their dogs. Karsa presents a different picture of him, however - as a coward.

Damisk appears to survive everything. Even when Karsa captures Silgar in the desert, and kills the other soldiers, Damisk appears to escape, and we never hear from him again.

My question is - most characters, minor or major, in the series have their stories tied up at some point, but Damisk disappears out of the story. Why did you allow him to live? Were you ever tempted to bring him back somehow?

That's it :) Not very crucial, but I've always been curious as to his end.
Sydo Zandstra
16. Fiddler
Hello Steven,

Thanks again for taking the effort to answer some questions.

First, I'd like to address an unfinished one from the MoI session, that got drowned in a certain debate there. I'd like to get back to it here, if you don't mind.


My initial question:

My question is about Silverfox, though. There has been some uncertainty in this book on if Bellurdan was one of the souls in her. Sometimes he was mentioned as one, and sometimes he wasn't.
Considering what happens in one of the later books (I won't spoil here for new readers, but I'm sure you know what I mean), is Bellurdan part of Silverfox or is the book I mentioned a clue pointing at something that happened to her before the events in that book (which we will possibly find out in a future installment)?

Your Reply:

Fiddler: in my mind Bellurdan's essence always played a role in Silverfox. I'm not sure what later book reference you're referring to, but it's always possible I changed my mind. Enlighten me (sidestepping egregious spoilers of course)?

My follow up:

What I was referring to concerning Bellurdan is in Toll the Hounds.

TtH spoiler below, whited out. Select text between the dots to read it:
Bellurdan's spirit turns out to have become The Dying God. How can this be when he is also a part of Silverfox? Did something happen to Silverfox between the end of Memories of Ice and the time of the events in Toll the Hounds?
If this will be dealt with in a future book I guess I'll get a RAFO.


About House of Chains, this is the first time I encounter this book again after having finished the Malazan Book of the Fallen, and I was surprised at noticing how many seeds there are in this book that are important until the very end of the story.

Robert Jordan was said to have written the last scene of the Wheel of Time series about the same time as the first book of the series. Did you have an ending designed early on too, with an outline and checkpoints where you wanted the plotlines to be, or did you arrive at the ending by going with the flow while writing book after book? It has always been my impression you must have had a good outline, allowing you to write and deliver a book a year.

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