Nov 23 2011 1:00pm

Steven Erikson Answers Your House of Chains Questions

The first batch of answers has come in from Steven Erikson regarding your House of Chains questions. Usually these answers appear in-thread, but since this time around those answers span over 6000 words, we thought we’d parse it out for you in a separate post.

All answers include their originating questions. A big thank you to Steven Erikson for taking time out to answer! We’ll be back after the holiday with your regularly scheduled Malazan reread of Midnight Tides.

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.

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.

Steven: I’ve mentioned a few times in past interviews the reasons behind my electing a single point of view to open House of Chains, one of them being a reviewer wondering if I knew how to stay with one point of view, which ticked me off.  But that aside, I think I had already planned a structural break from the previous three novels.  I wanted to explore a more realistic take on the ‘barbarian’ trope found in many fantasy works, and realized fairly quickly that I had plenty to work with, justifying holding to Karsa’s point of view and, more importantly, his limited, truncated world view.  Also, I wanted to play with the notion of cultural relativism, which was and remains a pervading argument among anthropologists and others; which is in effect to take the position that what exists in any culture, as practice or traditional behaviour, cannot be judged from outside that culture.  I’ve always had a problem with that, since it seeks to impose a notion of amorality to human behaviour, and that amorality is not only intrinsically offensive (to me), it’s also indefensible given the mutilation, oppression and cruelty that can exist in any culture.  To stand back and plead scientific detachment is reprehensible.  Anyway, I wondered: how far can I push this, via the notion of hunting and killing ‘children’ and the culturally ‘acceptable’ rape-as-reward element in Teblor feuding?  While the former hinges on a ‘misunderstanding’ in the reader (hence the lesson of misunderstanding culture-specific terminology), the latter is one of those acts that crosses all barriers, and was intended to make the reader recoil.

There’s obvious risks to such exploration, as it strides blithely into uneasy situations (blinking innocently).  I had a fair sense that I couldn’t push it much further, which is why that point of view last for only the first quarter of the novel.  At some point, the ‘known’ outer universe (known to the readers, sort of) must impinge on that quaint worldview of the Teblor, and that imposition was begun the moment the raiders reached the town.  It follows, however, that the raiders and Karsa in particular, will resist that imposition, even if it kills them.  But for Karsa it doesn’t and over time, he begins to learn.  That’s his journey.  Curiously, I suppose the reader’s journey is the very opposite, as the opening section pulls one into a very truncated, limited and occasionally appalling world-view, which in effect is a placing of chains upon the reader’s sensibility, binding them to Karsa and his adventures.

It was an interesting thing to do, and I recall my delight at the constraint Karas’s POV forced upon me as the writer.  I still think some of the dialogue among the raiders is the best I’ve done, and as an example of tight, near perfect point of view, it remains to me one that I am most proud of.

If readers wanted to take a shower after some scenes, step out for a smoke or down a few whiskeys, I get it.  Honestly.  I never said I was nice.

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.?

Steven: I’m not sure.  The first three books are a kind of closed loop, aren’t they?  Which was the intent and the reason for the final scene in Memories of Ice carrying us back to the beginning of Deadhouse Gates.  But obviously, I had more books to write for this series, so I needed to pick myself up, dust myself off, and resume the story.  I don’t have much sense that the first three novels are given short-shrift.  Often they seem to rank high in the list of favourites.  But even within those books, I had prepared launching pads, and the one I settled on to start House of Chains was Karsa’s, whom we first meet in Deadhouse Gates although we don’t know it at the time.  How often do characters just appear on the literary stage, fill up a scene with their presence, and yet give nothing away of where they came from or even much of who they are (and were)?  Karsa’s first appearance was like that, but I already knew him well, as I’d run a solo campaign with a friend (Mark Paxton-MacRae) who played Karsa (that campaign delivered to Mark the same experience of dismay and unease as the readers subsequently got, as I didn’t explain to him the truth behind the ‘children’ either; in fact, he didn’t even realize that he was a giant who would view all adult humans as children.  Needless to say, I dragged Mark through hell, and now it was time to do the same to a few thousand readers).

Structurally, it makes a sharp break, but in many ways, all the novels that followed also made structural breaks in one form or another, so I needed to set the precedent as early as I could.

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?

Steven: Yeah, we’d gamed that encounter.  As I recall, I was surprised when Mark announced that Karsa was throwing his spear into Binadas’ chest.  I suspect Mark was acting out of immense frustration, as the world kept shitting on Karsa big-time.  He’d probably had enough!  But I enjoyed staying loyal to that gamed sequence, and set it there to drift mysteriously through quite a few books.

Why did you choose to make Bidithal so unrepentantly evil?

Steven: Because I’d set up the fallacy of cultural relativism throughout Book One.  Now, with Bidithal, I got specific and unrelenting in the horror of permissive attitudes towards certain cultural practices.  Then, to properly close that loop, I let Karsa conclude matters.  Succinctly.

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?

Steven: Hmm, as I am presently in a family feud with an in-law over his usage of the word ‘Eskimo’ to describe Inuit people, based on the argument that it is what English people use (so eff off, willya?), you’ve caught me at a low point when it comes to my faith in the ability of people to accept enlightenment (it’s all about saving face, isn’t it?  Still, imagine trying to defend the right to insult someone with a derogatory term…).  But generally speaking, yes, I believe people are capable of transformation.  My belief wasn’t a passive one, either, since it’s why I wrote the Malazan series.  It’s all about change and growth, but it also acknowledges the prices paid, on both a personal and a cultural level.  And through the process of writing the series, why, surprise, I changed as well.

Will you please high-five Richard Morgan the next time you see him? The Cold Commands is spectacular.

Steven: I’ll try to remember, but it may be a while since I think he’s just moved to Spain…

SamarDev: 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?

Steven: Groan.  I don’t have the book at hand.  But I seem to recall those there are two possibilities here.  Acorns and diamonds.  Is that right?  Let me know and I’ll go on from there…

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’?

Steven: If you’ve read the whole series, you’ll know the conclusion of this particular track.  These were very much planned in advance.  Tavore was always central, but one whose point of view we would never get.  The question of sympathy is central to the readers’ engagement with both characters, and both were intended to be challenging.  It’s too easy to like just the nice people, and I find this irritatingly common in Fantasy fiction.  Well, in most fiction.  Films, too, though they tend to take more risks on that …  but no, not really.  What’s alarming, in fact, is how in films many heroes prove to be as sociopathic as the bad guys, and we’re invited to stay with them, right there at their side, grinning like fools at all the blood and corpses … so, scratch that comment on films.  It’s also too easy to like just strong people, and dangerous besides, but a lot of Fantasy fiction invites that, too.

In a series about compassion, sympathy is an important force, and it’s amazing how far it can be stretched, and just how quickly it can then suddenly snap.  How do you get it back?  That’s the challenge, and that was my challenge with Felisin, although, to be honest, I was never as unsympathetic towards her as were most readers.  She defended herself on all levels, as best she could, and as if often the case, some people will use aggression as a best defense, including verbal aggression.  But she was also lost.  Seriously lost.  Lost in ways most of us have never known.  Anyway, I needed to bring her back to you, to make that conclusion emotional (but not emotionally simplistic – I wanted the push and pull of feelings in the reader, following that final scene with her: I wanted sadness mixed with confusion and unease – I needed all of that to give meaning to Pearl’s decision, and Lostara’s silence).

Toster: 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.

Steven: I’m sure they will meet up again, if not in Cam’s next novel, then in the Karsa trilogy.

Robin55077: 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 redundant?

Steven: I don’t know.  Wait till I get more information on it.  Out of habit I do on occasion leave things open to interpretation (no, really?).  If someone can give me page numbers for, say, the UK paperback edition or the TOR large format version or TOR paperback (many of my books are in storage; but I can get to those mentioned here), I can take a look, scratch my head, think for a while, and then make something up…

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?

Steven: Uhm, no.

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.

Steven: As you say, the reason was to keep the events of Deadhouse Gates alive in the reader’s mind, to pull out a thread from that loop which seemed to seamlessly close with the end of Memories of Ice.  But also, I wanted to touch on the effect such massive events can have on the indigenous populations, and so explored something of the mythologization already underway among the locals, all of which could well lead to the rise of a cult sometime in the future.  Events get absorbed, become transformed.  Symbolically, it was also important to retrace some of that route, and even if Tavore had been given the option of taking a sea voyage instead, she would have refused it.  She well understood the psychological impact of taking those steps on that well-trodden path, for both the local populations and for her own soldiers.  She always had a preternatural awareness of the value of long, difficult journeys…

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...

Steven: Something unique about Karsa?  The man is relentless and too obstinate to accept defeat.  That’s probably not as unique as it should be.  But yes, he’s unusual.  That said, it wasn’t an easy fight, was it?  But he’s tough as nails.  I’m sure the poor Deragoth wondered the same things you wondered even as they were being dismantled by this maniac who just wouldn’t die.

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?

Steven: It depends on who’s doing the talking.  People in the know will recognize those demons who come from the ‘Demonic Warren,’  Aral Gamelain (at least, I think that’s the one), and so name them.  Others will see any creature that doesn’t belong to be demonic.

Bill Capossere: 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 . . .“ ?

Steven: That’s mostly a technical thing, and it’s addressed on multiple occasions, beginning with the original composition, and then my re-read through the next day; and then the editor’s comments, and then those of the copy-editors.  Mostly, one has to rely on a sense of balance.  With respect to the use of the word/image of ‘chains’ it’s all down to taste, and an individual’s sense in the reading of the text.  Ever hit on a word that bugs you for some reason, and then start finding it everywhere?  Like that.  Obviously, some words or images can be made to work on multiple levels, so that each time they reappear they add to their function and meaning: they set up a resonance.  This entire novel is all about prisons: prisons of ignorance, prisons of fear, prisons of time and fate.  The entire story drags chains and the reader is also chained (hopefully) and dragged along through it.  Structurally, this is what tragedies do: they create something inexorable and inescapable.  At the same time, it’s interesting to explore its opposite, that of freedom, and all the edges it presents (including Bidithal’s ‘freedom’ to commit butchery, versus the victim’s ‘freedom’ to be left alone), and then one can extend that to cultural chains and cultural freedoms, all in a setting where liberty was the source of a war, that in turn invited appalling suppression and the end of ‘civil’ freedom.  Now make a chain of an army on the march and drag it back through the dust of half a continent…

Did I overdo it?  Who knows.  The original consensus after the book first came out was fairly negative.  No one liked the ending, the absence of a big battle, etc.  It’s probably safe for me to presume that readers chafed at this story’s chains, binding them to a sequence of events they didn’t want.  Curiously, as re-reads kick in, many readers changed their mind on this novel.  And now that the tenth book is done, one can finally see the closure of a loop that may well have seemed already closed, but wasn’t.  Some chains are harder to see than others…

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?

Steven: If I don’t feel any emotion writing such scenes, what chance is there that you will?  If I don’t make that emotional journey, how dare I expect you to?  I have to feel what I’m writing, right down to the core.  I’m only one step ahead of all of you, but I assure you that I take those steps, wishing with all my heart that you’re still following, still there, still with me.

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?

Steven: No, it’s been clear as mud for me since the beginning.  All right, being somewhat facetious there.  Word by word, sentence by sentence, it’s all clear to me.  The difficulty, I think, lies in the subject matter at hand: a complicated world full of complicated people filled with complicated thoughts and feelings; and riding high and churning below all of that, there’s the act of living we’re all engaged in, and that’s insanely complicated.  A story invites both writer and reader into a kind of superficial ease: we want to slide along, pleasingly entertained, lost in the fictional dream.  This is in essence the traditional form of fiction and I’m not dissing it with that description.  Heavy stuff can come of that; difficult subjects and challenging themes can thrive in that form (Moby Dick, anyone?  No, never again for me, either).  The postmodern take, however, opens other possibilities.  To the classical challenge (among workshop instructors) of ‘whose story is it?’ we can now answer:  “Yours.”  That answer can leave a reader startled, un-footed.  But what it can do is then invite that reader into a different relationship with the given story.  Your journey, their journey, my journey: here in this book, among these pages, it’s all intertwined.  Granted, you maybe didn’t ask for it, and maybe don’t even want it, but it’s yours anyway.

That’s a different kind of ‘difficult,’ and one I wrestled with for about three million words now.  I’ll never be the one to say I pulled it off, or didn’t: that judgement is not for me to make.  I’m still trapped in that mud of uncertainty, this cloying complexity and occasionally hopeless ambivalence.  Oh well, it’s a living.

Abalieno: 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.

Steven: Well, we can now universally believe we’re part of the system of nature but really, we don’t believe it at all.  We retain that Cartesian disconnect and it’s borne out in virtually everything we do to this planet and to each other.  Oh, and Nature isn’t chaotic in the least: it’s a system of checks and balances all predicated on the continuation of a viable environment in which to play out.  Even inanimate Nature follows well set rules of behaviour, even when that can only be comprehended on a vast, geological scale.  Anyway, I don’t buy this Nature equals Chaos thing.  What meaning is, is an attempt, by a sentient mind, to make sense out of our own ignorance: it’s this ignorance that makes Nature seem chaotic and inexplicable.  But this quest for meaning is itself an ordering of things, even when that ordering is founded on superstition, making that ‘meaning’ not as much a factor in righting nature, but more a factor in easing our discord with what we don’t understand (or won’t understand, because it’s more convenient to do nothing when doing something is hard and unpleasant).  Still and all, there’s nothing wrong with the effort itself: we need meaning as much as we need water and oxygen, and in extremis, it can offer us the illusion of peace … provided Nature doesn’t rear up and bite our heads off.

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: Yes, I see this contradiction.  It’s our ongoing dialogue with existence.  But that’s all I can do: see it.  I have no answers, no solutions.  If in words we seek cadence and from cadence, we can in some way mimic the cycles of Nature, then we step closer to some kind of reality.  But how do we know when we get there?  As far as I can tell, we don’t.  Because we can’t separate ourselves from the narrative we impose, except with silence, and I’m not in the business of silence.

shalter: 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?

Steven: Everybody’s cagey in the Malazan world.  You never know when it might be expedient to unleash a little long-buried mayhem, if only to make a clean getaway in the clouds of dust and smoke.  Anyway, it’s probably a bit of both, but a more direct answer will have to await the upcoming trilogy, as I touch on the cost of killing powerful beings.

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?

Steven: I’ll take school-girl crushes these days, since they make me feel less old.  I don’t think I would ever say to an audience ‘it’s time to heal, folks,’ since that would be a presumption on my part.  But through Nil and Nether, I did invite you to move on.  This is, to me, how characters and readers can walk in step, if the latter so chooses.

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. :-)

Steven: Delighted to have you on board.

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 competitive or as knock-down drag-out as you like.

Steven: Hah!  It won’t work, because a proper feud requires both sides to be familiar with the enemy, and I will guarantee you no fans of any other work or series will ever bother plunging into and staying around through the entire Malazan Book of the Fallen, especially if its ethos is something they find unpalatable, which they would, wouldn’t they?

Sheruman: 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.

Steven: I bring this up every now and then, but I think the publishers find the prospect way too daunting.  It’d be nice, though.  Keep petitioning!

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.

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?

Steven: D’you know, I haven’t a clue who you’re talking about.  Sounds like some survivor.  Might he be pulled back some time in the future?  Now you’ve brought him up, could be…

Fiddler: First, I’d like to address an unfinished one from the MoI session. My question is about Silverfox. 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)?

Steven: in my mind Bellurdan’s essence always played a role in Silverfox. The nature of the Tellann sorcery kicked out by Tool essentially locked Hood’s Gate for any soul leaving mortal flesh within range of its influence.  Bellurdan was one such character.  But he’s a Thel Akai, and that makes his soul a very powerful thing indeed.  To answer you, Silverfox got a small part of him, but the rest of him went elsewhere….

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 written early on too, or did you arrive at the ending by going with the flow while writing book after book?

Steven: I had my ending scenes, right down to having to wait what seemed forever for Tavore to finally close her very personal thread as set down in House of Chains.  Needless to say, that kind of patience drove me nearly mad.


Thanks everyone.  I’ll do a part two on this once I get your responses, etc.

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: ‹ previous | index | next ›
1. amphibian
Wow. I'm blown away by the considerate responses and the playful humor.

Bellurdan a Thel Akai instead of Tartheno Thelomen Toblakai? News to me...

Good luck with the writing, family and defense of the unknowing disadvantaged, Steve!
Brian R
2. Mayhem
@1 Yep, that leaped out at me as well.
It makes sense though, explains how he could hang around Nightchill for so long, and why his behaviour is so different to the TTT we encounter - he's the only significant named mage as far as I recall, though there are a few shamans or hedge wizards as we see in MT/RG.

@Steve re the two objects. Pages from the Bantam mmpb
Kalam scatters his diamonds across flagstones in a ruined city@p798 (chapter 20). He then blows his whistle and his five and every other demon in a diamond awake to do the needful.

Lostara finds an object lying among cobbles and stones @p875 and hands it to Cotillion @p879 who recognises it, and suggests that the item was in fact important to her in some way.

The Acorn appears to Kalam from the Stone Forest @p885 Drops off a tree above him, at which point he wryly comments on why they don't do this any more.

Our discussion was more or less were the object and the acorn related, or if not, how did QB get his acorn to Kalam, and why would an azalan diamond have been important to Lostara?

Curiously just before Kalam scatters his diamonds, a Pardu Shaman scatters a handful of small objects as well, black and glittering. But they apparently weren't from Shai'ik's army. I wonder what the Pardu were doing there, other than serving the plot by summoning the dogs :p
3. Jragghen
Hey Steven - thanks for answering all these questions for us, and thanks for the excellent novels which we've enjoyed :)

I'm not sure if you're watching the comments for follow-ups (if not, then I'll just toss this out in the next interview), but one of your answers made me wonder anew.

Karsa’s first appearance was like that, but I already knew him well, as I’d run a solo campaign with a friend (Mark Paxton-MacRae) who played Karsa (that campaign delivered to Mark the same experience of dismay and unease as the readers subsequently got, as I didn’t explain to him the truth behind the ‘children’ either; in fact, he didn’t even realize that he was a giant who would view all adult humans as children. Needless to say, I dragged Mark through hell, and now it was time to do the same to a few thousand readers).

Now, many of us already knew that the world was birthed from the gaming campaigns of yourself and Esslemont. In a previous interview following the final novel of the series (I believe it was over on Pat's Fantasy Hotlist?), I learned who your characters were (highlight for spoilers for people who want to guess themselves) - Cotillion and Shadowthrone, respectively.

Now, because of this, I treated it as "confirmation" of sorts of a theory that I had: that your roleplaying sessions were the "Old Empire," so to speak - other members of your gaming group played Lassen, Dassem, Whiskeyjack, Dujek, Nok, Toc the Elder, Urko, etc, and that the stories of their conquests - never explicitly told - were your roleplaying sessions, and that we'll never get to "see" those, because it's more of a shared story that was crafted amongst your group. However, your answer above throws a monkey wrench into that theory, as a portion of House of Chains is directly taken from one of your roleplaying sessions. So I was wondering how much of the series proper was from actual roleplaying sessions, how much of the backstory is, and which characters in particular were PCs in your sessions.

Thanks :)
Iris Creemers
4. SamarDev
Steven, thanks a lot for your extended explanations!

Re the acorn/diamond-question, I think Mayhem gave you the right places to look. Is Bantam paperback the UK-paperback? If not:
@ p 798 = about 4-5 pages before the end of chapter 20.
@ p 875 + rest of the scenes Mayhem numbers = chapter 23, starting about two pages after switch of Trull/Onrack to Lostara/Pearl.
Our discussion was more or less were the object and the acorn related, or if not, how did QB get his acorn to Kalam, and why would an azalan diamond have been important to Lostara?
I'll add: and if the object and acorn are related: how could Lostara recognize the acorn for what it was, actually Kalams / QB’s shaved knuckle in the hole?

- Could she detect QB’s very special magics due to that special night (Bantam @ p. 388 – chapter 8 ± 2 pages into Lostara’s POV).
- Or are QB’s acorns always shadow-related (although that’s ‘just’ one of his warrens), and could she as Shadow Dancer detect the Shadow in it and associated that – logically – with Cot?

- or... well, would be nice if you could clarify something, and if not possible, thanks for trying!
Paulo Cunha
5. Zohar666
This is one of the crucial puzzles of the entire series. Why Cottilion and Shadowthrone s priorities about revenge against Laseen changed from book one to book four? And why Shadowthrone and Cottilion blame one another about who instigates the other about the revenge?Below are some thoughts from Malazan Empire (User: Abalieno) about the subject. Thoughs from Steven are more than welcome lol

"We tried to figure out an ideal progression so that the various steps seem coherent, but either way one looks at it there are aspects that don't quite match. So we'd like to hear an "official" take on the whole thing. Are there elements that can be marked officially as mistakes so that we can put at least those out of the picture? The elements we have: In Chapter 1 of GotM, before Sorry's possession, it's ST who forces Cotillion's hand. Sorry seems to be Cotillion's plan, as is the desire of vegeance (ST seems more dismissive/unfocused). Their master turned and said to the man beside her, 'Something to gnaw on Laseen's mind.' He giggled again. 'Must you complicate things?' the other answered wearily. The short man stiffened. 'They are within sight of the column.' He cocked his head. From up the road came the scream of horses. He sighed. 'You've reached a decision, Cotillion?' The other grunted amusedly. 'Using my name, Ammanas, means you've just decided for me. We can hardly leave her here now, can we?' 'Of course we can, old friend. just not breathing.' Cotillion looked down on the girl. 'No,' he said quietly, 'she'll do.' The fishergirl bit her lip. Still clutching Rigga's candle, she took another step back, her wide eyes darting from one man to the other. 'Pity,' Ammanas said. Cotillion seemed to nod, then he cleared his throat and said, 'It'll take time.' An amused note entered Ammanas's reply. 'And have we time? True vengeance needs the slow, careful stalking of the victim. Have you forgotten the pain she once delivered us? Laseen's back is against the wall already. She might fall without our help. Where would be the satisfaction in that?' Cotillion's response was cool and dry. 'You've always underestimated the Empress. Hence our present circumstances… No.' He gestured at the fishergirl. 'We'll need this one. Laseen's raised the ire of Moon's Spawn, and that's a hornet's nest if ever there was one. The timing is perfect.' In Chapter 3, (the very end) after Sorry kills Paran, we have ST and Cotillion discussing near Paran's lifeless body. In this instance it's again Cotillion who urges ST to stay focused on the revenge on Laseen. 'I don't believe in coincidences.' Again came the giggle. 'Nor do I. Two years ago we began a game of our own. A simple settling of old scores. It seems we have stumbled into a wholly different game here in Pale.' 'Whose?' 'I shall have that answer soon enough.' 'Don't get distracted, Ammanas. Laseen remains our target, and th collapse of the Empire she rules but never earned.' I 'I have, as always, supreme confidence in you, Cotillion.' In Chapter 15, we see Shadowthrone facing Anomander Rake and Cotillion's plan with Sorry coming to an end. Again ST claims it's all relative to Cotillion and that he's not directly involved. A sigh issued from the hooded darkness of the god's face. 'Ah, well. As I said, I am not involved. However, the Rope is.' 'Recall him,' the Tiste Andii commanded. 'Now.' 'He will be severely displeased, Anomander Rake. His plans extend far beyond Darujhistan, seeking to reach the Malazan throne itself.' 'I fight my own battles,' Rake growled. 'And I'd rather deal with Laseen on the Malazan throne than with a servant of Shadow. Recall him.' 'One last point,' Shadowthrone said, a giggle escaping him, 'I am not responsible for whatever actions the Rope might take against you.' A smile entered Rake's tone. 'Convince him of the wise course, Shadowthrone. I have no patience for your games. If I am pushed, by either you, your Hounds, or by the Rope, I'll make no distinction. I will assail the Shadow Realm, and you are invited to try to stop me.' 'You lack all subtlety,' the god said, sighing. 'Very well.' He paused and shadows swirled around him. 'He has been recalled. Forcibly extracted, as it were. The field is yours once again, Anomander Rake. In Chapter 23, Paran faces Cotillion. It seems the ultimate intent is preserved, but Cotillion will now look for other ways to realize it. 'You should have left us to our work, Captain, since you now hate the Empress so.' 'Now what?' 'Now?' Cotillion seemed surprised. 'Now I start again.' 'Another girl like her?' 'No, the plan was flawed.' Considering this, it seems that Sorry was intended to have a role in the possible rebellion on Genabackis. Sorry specifically gets close to the Bridgeburners and it's because she's there that Cotillion thinks he may find some allies, to then turn them against the empress. "Old guard", so maybe still faithful to the Emperor. This whole possibility is also confirmed by Laseen's perspective since she doubts of the loyalty of Dujek and wants Whiskeyjack dead (this is factual, since at the end of GotM Lorn still seeks a way to take out WJ). What doesn't quite fit is this: Sorry's behavior has been quite extreme for the whole time. If Cotillion sought to get some control over the Bridgeburners, or even lead the rebellion back against Laseen, then he acted in the worst possible way. He actively alienated them. The other aspect that doesn't fit is that Kalam describes Sorry as "pure evil", yet Cotillion isn't so, and the "necessity" of Sorry's behavior may be quite complicate to completely justify. Now I continue following the next three books but relatively free of spoilers since these are just sparse elements detached from the specific storylines. At the end of Deadhouse Gates we see Shadowthrone being somewhat "accomodating" toward Laseen, either meaning that the plot of the story was changed to fit the rest of the series (and so a GotMism/mistake), or Shadowthrone changed his mind/reorganized his priorities along the way. In Memories of Ice we see Whiskeyjack voicing many times his suspects that Laseen wanted him dead, even against Dujek attempts to persuade him of the contrary. This is somewhat ambivalent/ambiguous. What is Laseen true position toward WJ? In House of Chains we see Cotillion involved, apparently without ST involvement, with Kalam, Lostara and Cutter. Cutter asks some direct questions that we readers desperately want to ask Erikson, and Cotillion is WAY too evasive. I can imagine Erikson reading this loooong "question" I'm doing here and having the exact same reaction: "you force me to reconsider my offer" (of answering your questions). This also opens a completely new perspective: using Sorry to somewhat sabotage the empire attack on Darujhistan. But it's not acceptable because we know for sure that the plan involved directly vengeance on Laseen. Maybe it's both, wrecking the empire army and campaign/expansion (so vengeance on Laseen), while serving other incidental purposes like keeping Darujhistan independent (but Sorry takes no actions that way in GotM, and was just about to take Oponn out of the picture, the only god who seemed interested to preserve the city). Or maybe it's just Cotillion lying to Cutter just to win his sympathy, which is maybe too shameless. 'I'd like some questions answered.' 'Indeed.' 'Yes. Such as, why did you and Shadowthrone scheme to destroy Laseen and the empire? Was it just a desire for revenge?' The god seemed to flinch within his robes, and Cutter felt unseen eyes harden. 'Oh my,' Cotillion drawled, 'you force me to reconsider my offer.' 'I would know,' the Daru pressed on, 'so I can understand what you did… did to Apsalar.' 'You demand that your patron god justify his actions?' 'It wasn't a demand. Just a question.' Cotillion said nothing for a long moment. The fire was slowly dying, embers pulsing with the breeze. Cutter sensed the presence of a second Hound somewhere in the darkness beyond, moving restlessly. 'Necessities,' the god said quietly. 'Games are played, and what may appear precipitous might well be little more than a feint. Or perhaps it was the city itself, Darujhistan, that would serve our purposes better if it remained free, independent. There are layers of meaning behind every gesture, every gambit. I will not explain myself any further than that, Cutter.' In the scene with Lostara instead we see another intent being folly shown: the empire is now convenient to ST and Cotillion's purposes (its success is crucial to what we seek). Has this intent popped up along the way and AFTER the events in GotM, or was it there the whole time? Maybe ST wanted to take down Laseen's empire and then use what was left for his own purposes, but this does not quite match again with Sorry's excessive behavior and how she drived the Bridgeburners away instead of toward her. Once again it is possible that Cotillion is lying only to try to tell Lostara what she wants to hear (so in Cutter's case that he wanted to save Darujhistan, and in Lostara's case that he wants to support the empire). But he also expresses interest in the Bridgeburners, which justifies again why Sorry was sent along with them: because Cotillion wanted to "observe" if they were still loyal to who ruled the empire before (again contrasting with Sorry's alienating behavior). 'That is not the loyalty I would call upon with you,' Cotillion replied. She was silent, struggling to fit sense to her thoughts, to his words. Cotillion… was Dancer. Shadowthrone… must have been Kellanved, the Emperor! She scowled. 'My loyalty is to the Malazan Empire. The Empire—' 'Very good,' he replied. 'I am pleased.' 'And now you're going to try to convince me that the Empress Laseen should not be the empire's true ruler—' 'Not at all. She is welcome to it. But, alas, she is in some trouble right now, isn't she? She could do with some… help.' 'She supposedly assassinated you!' Lostara hissed. 'You and Kellanved both!' She betrayed you. Cotillion simply shrugged again. 'Everyone had their… appointed tasks. Lostara, the game being played here is far larger than any mortal empire. But the empire in question - your empire - well, its success is crucial to what we seek. And, were you to know the fullest extent of recent, distant events, you would need no convincing that the Empress sits on a tottering throne right now.' 'Yet even you betrayed the Emper—Shadowthrone. Did you not just tell me—' 'Sometimes, I see further than my dear companion. Indeed, he remains obsessed with desires to see Laseen suffer—I have other ideas, and while he may see them as party to his own, there is yet no pressing need to disabuse him of that notion. But I will not seek to deceive you into believing I am all-knowing. I admit to having made grave errors, indeed, to knowing the poison of suspicion. Quick Ben. Kalam. Whiskeyjack. Where did their loyalty truly reside? Well, I eventually got my answer, but I am not yet decided whether it pleases me or troubles me. There is one danger that plagues ascendants in particular, and that is the tendency to wait too long. Before acting, before stepping - if you will - from the shadows.' He smiled again. 'I would make amends for past, at times fatal, hesitation. And so here I stand before you, Lostara, to ask for your help.' This is basically the whole thing as it developed. The aspects that do not quite match are mostly two. The first is Sorry's behavior under Cotillion's control. Both because Cotillion isn't shown as so utterly evil and because that behavior seemed antithetic to Sorry's purpose (winning back the Bridgeburners, or at least WJ's squad). The second aspect is the obvious switch of intentions, with ST becoming much more accomodating toward Laseen and abandon the desire of vengeance."
Joe Long
6. Karsa
@5 wow...long post.
Two years ago we began a game of our own. A simple settling of old scores. It seems we have stumbled into a wholly different game here in Pale.' 'Whose?' 'I shall have that answer soon enough.' 'Don't get distracted, Ammanas. Laseen remains our target, and th collapse of the Empire she rules but never earned.'
You are assuming that these two sentences are connected. What wrong were they righting? why does the empire need to collapse?

I try to always keep in mind that because a character says something doesn't mean they really think it. and if they think it, it doesn't mean its true.

of course, Steven's reaction more than welcome! :)
7. Xiphiasar
Mr. Erikson,

Thanks for writing Malazan Book of the Fallen, it's the best series I've read. I'm on Toll the Hounds.

It would be prohibitively expensive to adapt Malazan Book of the Fallen into movies. But I think it could be made into an anime, maybe one season per book. Most anime sucks, but some with high production value, like Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop, are amazing. I feel like anime could do justice to MBotF's magic and battles where live action couldn't. What are your thoughts on this? Would you consider it as a possibility in the future?
8. Mr. Glum
"Hah! It won’t work, because a proper feud requires both sides to be
familiar with the enemy, and I will guarantee you no fans of any other
work or series will ever bother plunging into and staying around through the entire Malazan Book of the Fallen,"

UNTRUE Steve! Give fantasy fans a little more credit sir!
I got into your series because I was tired of reading WoT over and over. And I now own the entirety of both (or I will at least whenever Mr. Sanderson gets around to writing Memory of Light)

Anyway, volunteering to be a free agent for whatever side wants me in the battle between WoT and Malazan. I love both for very different reasons, and I also feel entirely free to dump on certain books in either series.
9. Iris1979
Hi Steven,
what you said about sympathy for Felisin And Tavore really rang a bell with me as they were the characters that drew me (at the time a reluctant reader) into the Malazan world. It was a refreshing change to find that not everyone would follow the 'kill bill' style narrative for an abused woman. The expectation that she would be capable of recieving help or forgive or become a superhero is totally overturned. There is no victory for her nor really for Tavore and it felt shockingly real. Rape has often seemed in genre fiction as a prop to signify that it's a dark adult story and is often just ignored once it's happened, what happened to Felisin continuing to affect her and those around her felt to me as a comment on how lightly other writers treat it. I'm just curious to know your thinking around this stuff.
I'm not much of a commenter normally so I'll prattle on a bit, I want to get this all out now sorry! Somewhere in HoC Felisin mentions her mother having visions, were we supposed to assume that Tavore inherited this ability?
Lastly on a less serious note I thought it a bit of a tragedy that Hedge and Fiddler were not lovers, the lack of slash fic Malazan style really grinds my gears. I decided you were a helpless romantic after I finished the series but was a bit sad there was no man to man action, I guess if you felt like talking about it more how concious were you of creating a world that had a fair level of gender equality and homosexuality was normal. I guess I don't really have a question here I'm just interested in your thoughts around it.
Thanks for doing this Q&A
Tricia Irish
10. Tektonica
Thanks for your involved and insightful comments, Steven. I am in awe of the depth of thought behind the truly thought provoking characters and observations within the plot of MBotF. You amaze me.

Thanks for taking such a great amount of time to answer these questions.

Interesting post@5.....
11. Jordanes
Hi Steven,

I just wanted to say thank you for giving such considerate and detailed responses to so many questions! It is a pleasure reading your books and a privilege getting your responses to our questions.

Like you, I also think that the early parts of House of Chains are some of the best, most tight writing in the series. The very fact that we see a character grow and develop so greatly - and yet believably - over the space of just a quarter of a book is sound testament to that, I think.

And I had to laugh to your response to my question regarding Damisk! If he does turn up in another book, then I'll just have to strut around and say, 'I was responsible for that.' :D

Speaking of other books, if you don't mind me asking, when are we likely to see Forge of Darkness hit the shops?

Thank you again for replying to our questions, and for the fantastic journey (not quite over for me, I've just started The Crippled God for the first time after embarking on an epic re-read of all the other ones first ;) ).
12. djk1978
Thanks for the answers, particularly as you've had to answer some of mine before. I appreciate the thoughtful and thorough reply.
Sydo Zandstra
13. Fiddler

Thank you for clearing that up.

Off topic:

Jordanes @11: I've just started The Crippled God for the first time after embarking on an epic re-read of all the other ones first

I cannot but admire your amount of patience or abilty in procrastination. ;)
Steven Halter
14. stevenhalter
Steven: Looking forward to hearing more on the cost of killing powerful beings in the upcoming trilogy. Also, congrats on turning in the first volume.
15. The Gunslinger
First, thank you Mr. Erikson. You're books are what gave me the inspiration to finally start my own writing.

My question is in regard to the pronunciation of some of the races in your world. I love talking about the books with friends, but I've found that nobody pronounces things the same. If you could give phonetic spelling of each (or just words that rhyme), I would be very grateful.

K'Chain Che'Malle (K or kuh, Sheh or Cheh, Mall or Male, as in tamale)
Tiste (is the "e" silent, have an "eh" sound, or an "e" sound?)
Edur (is the "e" stressed?)
Jaghut (is the "h" pronounced? If so, is hut Hutt as in Jabba, or hoot?)

This question coming from my girlfriend: Are your publishers ever going to reissue the series in hardback? There most certainly is a demand for this, as I'm sure most Malazan fans would love to have a complete (U.K.) hardcover collection. If they don't have any plans right now, Eric and Lisa humbly request that you beat this idea into them, as you are attempting with the audiobook (you must be forceful!).

And because I have to ask a question that I know you can't (or, rather, won't) answer:

Will we ever see Quick Ben again?

Bill Capossere
16. Billcap
Thanks for the great detailed responses. To follow up, which I think you invited.

You talked in one of your replies about cultural relativism and how the idea offends you. Do these sort of ideas drive or simply inform the writing and is this because it’s the mental world you’re currently swimming in, because you look to actively (but only) explore such concepts, or because you’re trying to answer such stances? For instance, you stated “thus the lesson,” a statement of seemingly strong intent (“I’m gonna learn you folks!”) that most authors shy away from. Once that door is opened, do you ever cringe at what walks through via what readers think you’re espousing (says the guy who weekly trolls through your work and blathers on about what he thinks it is "doing"--feel free to snort, roll eyes, or do some other sort of "who is this guy" with thumb and face)

When you say “the original consensus” was negative toward the book, I’m curious as to how you ascertain that consensus. Do you read reviews, fan boards, is it just sales? And if so, does it have any impact in the process, either directly on you or indirectly in pressure from publishers, agents, etc.?

The idea that the stories are perhaps seen as difficult because at least some of the characterization aims at creating “real” people, who bring with them all the contradictions, paradoxes, inconsistencies, etc. of real people, is something I’ve mentioned myself in reviews and responses to complaints (and is one of the reasons I enjoy this series so much). Do you ever, to use one of your words, “chafe” at this reputation of “difficulty”, understanding that you accept the reader is free to any judgement they wish to make as to personal response to the works.

I’m curious as to the strength of your response to the feud question someone asked (to remind you: “I will guarantee you no fans of any other work or series will ever bother plunging into and staying around through the entire Malazan Book of the Fallen, especially if its ethos is something they find unpalatable, which they would, wouldn’t they?”) Maybe I’m just missing something or misreading. Why is it that you think fans of other series wouldn’t read all of the Malazan series? I’ve lost track of the fantasy or non-fantasy series I’ve completed or am in the middle of and from comments on this reread, it seems a lot of your fans share similar experiences. I would think Malazan fans especially are big, catholic readers and thus come to it as fans of other works. Also, why are you so sure that the “ethos” of Malaz would be off-putting to those other fans? What is it about the ethos that you believe is so singular or so antithetical to others series? (tone is always an issue in online communications so you’ll just have to trust me that this is asked in the spirit of pure curiosity/mystification and thus lacks any smattering of snark)
17. what are the jhag
Who did the jaghut breed with to make the jhag karsa orlong talks with the jaghut he freed and she tells him but we never find out?
18. Karsa Lifegiver
Oh - boy do we find out. During the karsa vs icarium scenes several books later. What we don't know is who is icarium's mother... And does he have any siblings? Are there other jhag still living? Wait for it...

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