Dec 14 2012 2:00pm

Not Saving the World? How Does That Even Work?

Not Saving the World? How Does That Even Work? Jo Walton discusses Locke Lamora

Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora books made me notice something. Nobody saves the world. Now, they’re not the first fantasy novels where nobody saves the world, but it was such a given of fantasy for such a long time, post-Tolkien, that there was a time when if you’d told me there was an epic fantasy novel where nobody saved the world I’d have wondered how that even worked. There’s a whole set of fantasy series which are under the shadow of Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books, which take a particular kind of realism and a particular level of discourse from Martin. But in ASOIAF there’s no question that the world is in the balance. Winter is coming, and it’s because winter is coming, because ice and fire are out there that we’re interested in the “knights who say fuck.” We expect the books to end in an epic confrontation, and if they do not we will be disappointed. But A Game of Thrones was published in 1996, and The Lies of Locke Lamora in 2007. There has been a change in the kind of stakes we have in our fantasy, and although there were always fantasy novels that were on a smaller scale (Swordspoint positively leaps to mind, 1987, and the Earthsea books are on a very interesting cusp) they were very much the exception, and I don’t think that is the case any more.

Where did saving the world come from anyway?

It isn’t in fairytales, where what’s at stake is usually personal survival or personal happiness or at most half a kingdom. It isn’t in Lud-in-the-Mist (1926) or Lord Dunsany or George Macdonald or E. Nesbit, which all have fairytale kind of stakes, and the same applies to other Victorian and early Twentieth Century writers of fantasy stories for children including The Hobbit, in which the only thing at stake is a little corner of wilderness up near Dale—and don’t tell me what Gandalf said about it in Gondor in Unfinished Tales, because that was clearly nowhere in Tolkien’s mind in 1938.

Where saving the world came into fantasy was with The Lord of the Rings, and where Tolkien got it from was from Christianising Ragnarok. In Norse Mythology, the world is going to be destroyed and that’s all there is to it. It’s the inevitable end. There are versions where a couple of Thor’s sons will survive to see a new world, but in any case, this world that we love and care about will end in battle and destruction and dead heroes will rise again to fight at the side of the gods and be destroyed again and that’s the end. It’s inevitable. It’s always there. In writing LOTR Tolkien went with this kind of end of everything—if Sauron wins, there won’t even be anyone left to sing songs or tell stories. The ultimate victory of good, which happens through the operation of grace and not through the will (never mind power) of the heroes, is Tolkien’s Christianising of this deeply pagan myth. It was a very original thing to do, that eucatastrope.

It’s possible to argue that one of the reasons LOTR had the wide appeal it did in the sixties was because the readers knew that for the first time humanity actually did have the ability to destroy the real world. The stakes were that high. I think it’s fairly obvious from Tolkien’s writings about the Silmarils and the end of the Second Age that this wasn’t in his mind—that not only did he think it silly to see the Ring as the Bomb but that he wasn’t seeing Sauron’s potential destruction of Middle Earth as a nuclear holocaust either. I do think it may have been part of what made LOTR such a compelling story in the Cold War, and I think it may have influenced why this part of the story—the whole world at stake—came to be such a core part of post-Tolkien fantasy.

Even the strand of fantasy that came through the family tree of Leiber adopted the fate of the whole world. It’s particularly obvious in Moorcock.

It’s further possible to argue that the end of the Cold War and the complications of the post-Cold War era world have also influenced fantasy, and that this may be why we’re seeing so much urban and paranormal fantasy (which often imply fantastical conspiracies controlling the world), and so much secondary world fantasy with smaller stakes. Equally, it might be that people are bored with saving the world when it always and inevitably gets saved, when it has become become a cliche, so people want to do other things with fantasy.

Furthermore, saving the world sucks for sequels. It has to turn into “didn’t really save the world” or “world didn’t stay saved, dammit” or “that ultimate menace was only the apprentice of this ultimate menace” or “now you have to save the entire universe.”

If I had to pick a changeover point it would be Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice (1995) which was an extremely successful and influential fantasy novel that didn’t involve saving the world.

However, I do think there’s a problem with not saving the world.

There’s not generally a problem with people writing kingdom level fantasy. The shape of the story works, and the heroes save the kingdom. The same goes for most fairytale retellings. They have their own story shape already, and the retellers generally follow it only with more psychological realism.

The problem is when people do other kinds of stories in fantasy worlds—as with The Lies of Locke Lamora, and Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths, and Bujold’s Sharing Knife books. Here there’s something odd happening to the shape of the story—as if just by being fantasy the world naturally wants to be saved, and the personal story gets distorted. A really good example is Le Guin’s Tehanu, where it’s clearly being pulled in two different directions.

What distinguishes fantasy from other kinds of fiction is the existence of magic. Once you have magic, you have inevitable questions about the role and significance of magic, the status of magic users, the way this affects the world. Barbara Hambly has thought about these things a lot, and it’s why she’s one of my favourite fantasy writers. Daniel Abraham goes at it straight on and does it brilliantly. The way the balance works in the Long Price books is one of my favourite things about them.

Magic existing alters everything. And story has a weight of its own and when you’re writing it’s like rolling a stone along, downhill is always easier. What I’m seeing in some of these cases is a story where the downhill fantasy groove is taking it towards evil wizards and saving the world, or at least the kingdom, when the story’s trying to be a caper novel, or a Jacobean Revenge Tragedy, or something. This kind of balance issue tends to throw off the end, so that the personal ending doesn’t hold down the right weight. I think this is definitely the case with The Sharing Knife: Beguilement, where the fantasy plot is over in the first half of the book and the romance plot carries the rest of it. I think what we’re seeing here in the case of Bujold and Le Guin is absolutely top notch writers trying to make story go uphill and not entirely succeeding, because it’s really hard to do.

So, how does that even work? It can definitely work. But I think it’s one of those things where it’s not as easy as it looks.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently the Hugo and Nebula winning Among Others. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

1. AlecAustin
Fiddly quibble - my hardcover of Lies says it came out in July 2006.

I hope to make a more substantive response later, but I feel like there was a non-trivial amount of kingdom- and street-level fantasy even before Hobb: Brust, for example, to say nothing of Leiber and the like. Could you expand a bit on the sort of pivot point you see Assassin's Apprentice being? (I also find it a tad ironic as a pivot point, because that series ends up in a fairly strong discourse with 'save the world' later on.)
George Brell
2. gbrell
I think the problem is that series, even those that didn't originally involve saving the world, tend to "creep" in that direction. You bring up Assassin's Apprentice, but by Assassin's Quest the stakes have grown to approximate saving the world (and in the second trilogy, Fool's Errand minimizes the stakes, but they are raised back up in Golden Fool and Fool's Fate).

Lies isn't a book about saving the world, certainly, but it ends up being about "saving" Camorr, which approximates the world for the main characters. RSuRS is a much less "saving"-focused book, being about a much-delayed heist (and succeeds as a caper book moreso than Lies IMO). Though, based on the blurbs Lynch has released, his final novel in the series may be about world-saving ("The fate of nations decided."), which would be consistent with some of the clues being dropped about the Eldren.

You bring up Bujold, which is interesting, because I think that her Chalion novels are great examples of books that aren't about saving the world or really about saving the kingdom. Indeed, in Curse, a completely ignored point is that if the main characters fail, the titular curse would actually go away and Chalion would continue under different leadership. And in Paladin, the story is uniquely personal to Ista, even if takes place in the context of a kingdom-on-kingdom struggle.

Some other examples of different, non-world/kingdom saving fantasy stories that I can think of are Anansi Boys by Gaiman (which follows a world-saving story American Gods) and a lot of Mieville.
3. WHM
Locke is saving the world (or at least changing it). It's clear that he is chosen and trained by Chains (and by extension, perhaps, the Crooked Warded) to disrupt society. Chains may have meant only Camorr. But . Lock is an arrow aimed straight at the heart of power and corruption, and even though he and Jean get totally beat up physically and emotionally, and even though the people picking up the pieces in their wake aren't necessarily virtuous leaders of the people, they are succeeding in creating change.

I'm also pretty sure we're getting there. The Bondsmagi of Karthain await.
4. StrongDreams
I think Pratchett in the Discworld stories does a very good job of telling fantasy stories where the world, the kingdom, and even the city, is not at stake.

On the other hand, I was an early fan of the Thieves World stories edited by Robert Aspirin, but started to lose interest and eventually gave up when it became more about Gods and avatars and saving the kingdom.
alastair chadwin
5. a-j
"What distinguishes fantasy from other kinds of fiction is the existence of magic."
Not sure I agree. I would say that the only criteria that defines fantasy is a lack of concern for historical or social realism. I accept that this is a very wide definition, but it is the one that the British Fantasy Society seems to be using these days and so brings in supernatural/horror fiction, alternate history and many others along with the more traditional 'high' fantasy for want of a better word.
Personally I feel this is a good thing as defining a genre too firmly can lead to that genre becoming stale and increasingly worried about conforming to the 'rules' rather than telling interesting or entertaining stories. So I don't really see the retreat of magic and big threat as a problem, but rather a sign that the genre is growing in confidence.
6. Nicholas Winter
Much of the darker, call it non-sexy, urban fantasy told in series has no underlying intent of the world being saved long-term. Just look at The Laundry Series by Charles Stross which it explicity states that The Many Tentacled Ones are coming and nothing can be done so Bob and Mo don't have children as they don't want to see them die horribly, or Caitlin Kettredge's Black London series where surviving the latest horror is the main theme.

And there are certainly a lot of fantasy told in graphic form where saving the world isn't a consideration.
7. StrongDreams
I would argue that Farscape is a non-fantasy world (?) that started out telling smaller personal stories but ended with the chosen one saving the "kingdom". Maybe the real problem is that, when telling a long series of stories (either short stories as in Thieves World, TV episodes, or novel series) there is inevitable pressure to raise the stakes each time out. In reality-grounded series (Law & Order or NCIS, say) you have serial killers or terrorists stalking the main characters, you kill off actors who don't want to sign on for season 9, etc. In SFF, you go big. I think every version of modern Trek ends with the main cast saving the world, Federation or universe from some ultimate peril. And what better example of the "last year's big bad was small potatoes compared to this year's" scenario can you have than Stargate SG-1?
David Levinson
8. DemetriosX
You can't necessarily call it the turning point, but Lawrence Watt-Evans started kicking against the save-the-world traces as early as the mid-80s with his Ethshar books. The Misenchanted Sword was a huge breath of fresh air, because it was almost entirely personal, though the hero's quest may have impinged on larger matters (I don't quite recall). Watt-Evans didn't have a real transformative impact on fantasy, but he did show the way.
Iain Cupples
9. NumberNone
@7 StrongDreams: I think the question mark is the problem with that - I'd argue that Farscape isprobably fantasy (science fantasy, but fantasy). Magic is a thing in Farscape, after all. :)
Alan Brown
10. AlanBrown
I think, Jo, that you have a good point about the 'save the world' plot starting at about the time we gained the ability to destroy the world. Myself, I am tired of what has become a cliche, and enjoy tales where the scope is smaller, but more realistic.
11. AlecAustin
@Demetrios, good call on Lawrence Watt-Evans. The more personal scope of the Ethshar books is part of why I've always liked them.
Brian R
12. Mayhem
Its true, a lot of fantasy has a sliding scale of importance from save the person to save the city to save the world.

Working against the tropes, hmm.
The Myth books tended to be irreverently Kingdom level at best.
What about Raymond Feist & Janny Wurts' Empire series - there the goal is more rise from the ashes and break the land from its confines.

Hugh Cook's Chronicles of an Age of Darkness had the save the world plot, but ducked the trope - the good guys fail horribly at saving the world early on in that one, and then things get worse. And weirder. And there really aren't any good guys.

Most of Charles de Lints works are generally character works rather than save-the-world plot driven.
Guy Gavriel Kay tends to be more history driven character studies too.

Modesitt usually only wants to save his little corner of the world for the hero de jour.

Michael Scott Rohan's Winter of the World was more retelling classic myths, more man vs gods than save the world, but I guess the plot vs the Ice falls under that respect.

Wow, this is harder than I thought.
Paul Weimer
13. PrinceJvstin
I've been thinking about, and have written about a "Stakes scale" in fantasy novels and work. There is more of it more recently, and I think that ties into the rise of Neo Sword and Sorcery. That in itself is not quite what Ms. Walton is looking at here in Kingdom level Fantasy, but it provides some "downward pressure" so that there is room for more stories.

Courtney Schafer's Shattered Sigil novels (Whitefire Crossing, Tainted City) only have the fate of a city and maybe the neighboring country in the balance, and even then, its really about the fate of two main characters.
Christopher Johnstone
14. CPJ
I'm currently reading a set of essays (transcribed talks, really) by Alan Garner. His take on the 'save the world, good versus evil' in fantasy fiction is that a lot of this came from authors who were children during the second world war, and so grew up surrounded by a language of battle and world-saving. Tolkien was an adult in the war, but it might have unconciously changed the dirrection of his work as well. He said he never wrote analogy, and that certainly seems to be true, but it is difficult to be uninfluenced by sweeping life events.

An interesting flip side to this is that there are very few stories that involve a tragic damning of the world--I think perhaps in a way Lucas did this with ep I-III, and then ep IV-VI were the world-saving arc that follows. The tragic fall of the world is a resonding and large archetype of myth: in Ragnarok the world is lost, and at the end of Authurian legend the world is lost, or at least the civilised aspect of it.

Anyway, I thought this was an interesting post and interesting comments from people.

Douglas Freer
15. Futurewriter1120
To me if you're going to have a save the world plot, you have to put the entire planet or human race, or whatever else is living on the planet, in danger. If the plot is very localized, like a James Bond villain scheme or a bunch of comic villains plans that are country wide, then it can't be called saving the world.
16. thomrit
Robin Hobb's other half Megan Lindholm wrote non-saving the world novels with her Luck of the Wheel series Ki and Vandien made the world better for themselves and for those close to them...but they weren't a living happy ever after pair ... they were just a pair who kept on living.
Beth Mitcham
17. bethmitcham
Hmm. I disagree with what Bujold was trying to do in Beguilement. That book is actually about saving the world, but in a world where doing that is almost routine. So it's looking directly at that fantasy idea and seeing what it means for daily life.

It's also written as the first half of a story, which means that it does have a lot of pacing problems. The ending doesn't feel like a real finish, but that's more a problem with packaging since it wasn't written that way.
Jo Walton
18. bluejo
Thomrit: If you look again at Lindholm's Harpy novels you will see that they are SF, cunningly disguised as fantasy. I'm very fond of them.

Alec: What I was thinking was that before Assassin's Apprentice things that didn't save the world weren't given a big marketing push, as if they were swords and sorcery and could be published quietly but not Next Big Thing Fantasy. Ethshar would be a really good example. Hobb's book however had the fanfare and sold brilliantly and got a lot of attention and made not saving the world mainstream fantastical.

As for the later volumes and etc, yes, that's what I'm talking about, saving the world as a trope is out there like a huge whirlpool ready to suck down any fantasy sailing even close to that direction. See also Spell of the Black Dagger, and what WHM says about the Locke Lamora books above. It's much harder to write fantasy that avoids saving the world than it ought to be, and I think that's really worthy of consideration.
19. Mary Beth
A lot of my favorite books are non-saving-the-world: they focus instead on saving one's family, or maybe the kingdom. Rachel Neumeier does this in almost all of hers--House of Shadows is a particularly excellent example, where a peace treaty between two countries hangs in the balance, but for the most part the stakes are much more personal. N.K. Jemisin's Dreamblood novels do this too; so do Sarah Rees Brennan's, where the conflict really boils down to saving one's family or village. Hilari Bell's Farsala trilogy is another great example.

These books are a lot more personal for me--a lot more believable. Some commenters on TOR recently have said that because they're male they can't empathize with a female main character. Well, I'm a woman, and I've spent my life reading books with male main characters and being forced to empathize with them, so that's not a problem. But I've never saved the world, and I always find it a bit difficult to believe the motivations of Big Damn Heroes who have to. However, those characters who struggle desperately to save their family/their village/their small, isolated country? Those are people I can understand, because I've felt the same.

So bring on the kingdom- (and smaller!) level fantasy, please!
Alan Brown
20. AlanBrown
It isn't fantasy, but in the Flandry series, Poul Anderson adds quite a bit of pathos to the story by portraying Flandry's efforts as ultimately futile in delaying the inevitable collapse of the Empire. Asimov's Foundation series dealt with similar themes
Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire appears to have had quite a lot of influence on many stories I read when I was young.
21. OtterB
I'd count Martha Wells's current series, the books of the Raksura (The Cloud Roads, The Serpent Sea, and The Siren Depths) as primarily save-the-extended-family fantasies. They're not on a small scale - there's a fair amount of traveling around through different lands and cultures - but the stakes are mainly for the protagonist Moon and his "court."
Mimi Epstein
22. hummingrose
I have only read the first book, so I have no idea what might happen later, but Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey is very much not a "save the world" book. What's more, the stakes for saving the kingdom are more political than anything else - the heroine says that the country will be less magical (for subtle values of magical) if the bad guys take over, but she doesn't know that for certain, and the bad guys are more comparable to, say, Visigoths than actually evil.
alastair chadwin
23. a-j
And, of course, The Hobbit is not about saving the world, rather restoring treasure to its previous owners.
24. Shanna Swendson
I was just thinking about this when I reached a volume in a series I'd been enjoying and found myself slogging through it. The earlier books had mostly been rollicking adventures, and in this one, the protagonists were saving the entire world. I've realized that there's a diminishing returns effect on tension and suspense when the stakes get a bit too high. If the world won't literally end if the protagonists don't achieve their goals, then there's much more suspense about whether or not they will achieve their goals. I've read plenty of books in which they fail at some more personal goal, but then maybe succeed at something unplanned, or, in a series, in which they fail but the "happy" ending is surviving, escaping and regrouping. That sense of doubt keeps me turning pages. But if all of creation is going to be plunged into the abyss if they fail, whether or not they succeed isn't in much doubt. I don't think I've ever read a non-satirical book in which the protagonists failed to save the world and then everything ended. There may be some interest in how they save the world, but there's less urgency to me as a reader when I'm fairly certain they will.

So, saving the kingdom or the town, rescuing the dragon from the princess (that poor dragon), or finding the lost object holds a lot more suspense to me than saving the whole world from the unspeakable forces of ultimate evil.
25. q____q
I always thought:

kings and heroes saving the world = high fantasy
thieves and other „underclass“ people doing their thing = low fantasy
26. Mary Beth
OtterB @ 21:

I'm right in the middle of the Raksura series right now, and yes, that is one of the reasons I love it so much!
27. lorq
"What distinguishes fantasy from other kinds of fiction is the existence of magic."

Classic counterexample: Mervyn Peake's "Gormenghast" books. No magic whatsoever. None even implied. No monsters, either. A completely human, "secular" fantasy.

Also, these books conspicuously don't tell a "whole world at stake" story. Although you could argue that in the first two books, the hemermetically sealed world of Castle Gormenghast is itself threatened. (This could almost be read as an ironic spin on the "whole world at stake" story. Perhaps the whole world is threatened b/c it's actually quite small, insular, brittle, and not particularly worth saving.)
Brian R
28. Mayhem
How about Eve Forward's Villains by Necessity - those guys are busy fixing what happens after the world gets saved.
29. somewheresouth
CPJ @14 - I'd love a look at those Alan Garner essays. Where would you suggest looking for them? He was one of my favourite authors as a kid.

I think I prefer Sci-fi to fantasy these days as a lot of it does a better job of exploring possibility and character (or at least the stuff I find). That said, Richard Morgan's books do the reluctantly-saving-the-world-that-you're-not-so-sure-about-anyway thing extremely well, and manage to be both funny and nasty in a very good way. The best fantasy like all SFF explores humanity, which is why Terry Pratchett consistently nails it, and Barbara Hambly does as well.

It would be good to see fantasy do something other than save the world, the family, the person, but what other arc do you take?
30. James Davis Nicoll
I've realized that there's a diminishing returns effect on tension and suspense when the stakes get a bit too high.

Oh, like how after enough threatened apocalypses on Buffy and Angel (and all the implied ones going on elsewhere) that all fail, it becomes obvious Evil! is actually hilariously ineffectual and probably would be stymied by a sufficiently determined toddler armed with a squeaky rubber duck?

L. Sprague de Camp once wrote a series where in the first story his character saved the world and in the final one he saved his boss's job. As I recall de Camp later commented that if he'd been a more experienced writer, he would have reversed the order.
31. a1ay
I think Pratchett in the Discworld stories does a very good job of telling fantasy stories where the world, the kingdom, and even the city, is not at stake.

But the world, or at least the city, generally is in peril. It's become a running joke - by the time of The Truth, the Patrician is wearily certain that the latest innovation (printing) is going to cause Impending Doom yet again. Is the press built on top of an ancient demonic temple? (No, it used to be a rocking horse factory.) Well, he's always thought there was something vaguely sinister about rocking horses. And the print bed? No doubt the stone was taken from an ancient megalithic sacrifice altar? (No, my brother cut it). Oh.

But the Disc, or large bits thereof, are endangered in:
The Colour of Magic
The Light Fantastic
Equal Rites
Guards! Guards!
Moving Pictures
Reaper Man
Soul Music
The Last Continent
Thief of Time

and that's not counting all the ones in which it's just one city that's in peril, or just a massive war.

Or what happened when Mr Hong opened the Three Jolly Luck Fish Bar on the site of the old temple in Dagon Street on the night of the lunar eclipse. Screamgristlegristlegristlecrack, IIRC.
32. StrongDreams
But the Disc, or large bits thereof, are endangered in:

But that's like, what, 5% of Discworld books? I guess my point is that while Pratchett certainly does write about world-ending peril ocassionally, he also writes quite successfully about smaller or more personal problems (Going Postal, for example) and has not succumbed to the trap that each following book has to top the previous one in the scope of the peril and the stakes for the Hero.
33. a1ay
13, so about half of them.

You make a good point, though. I think part of it is that he isn't writing a series, he's just writing a lot of books set in the same world, some of which involve some of the same characters. He hasn't done 25 Rincewind books in a row.
34. Shanna Swendson
Oh, like how after enough threatened apocalypses on Buffy and Angel (and all the implied ones going on elsewhere) that all fail, it becomes
obvious Evil! is actually hilariously ineffectual and probably would be
stymied by a sufficiently determined toddler armed with a squeaky rubber duck?

I was actually thinking of the Buffyverse when considering how bored I get with "save the world" plots, but not so much because of incompetent evil. More because part of the fun of that world was the sense that there was all this going on that no one knew about. You could imagine these crazy things going on beneath the surface and behind the scenes, without most of the world having any idea. But when the sky goes dark and fire rains down, or when a seemingly benevolent deity takes over the world, and when it's all over the media, people have to notice, which puts it squarely into another world, ruining the pretense that this is a secret side of our world. When you're building a "secret magic" kind of world, if you bring in the media or do anything on a large enough scale that people beyond one particular small town have to take notice, it can't stay a secret, and that changes the world.
35. Cecilia ML
So...Joe Abercrombie?
Kevin Maroney
36. womzilla
A quick toss-in: Guy Kay's Tigana looks like a kingdom-level fantasy, but he throws in an odd interlude based on Carlos Ginzburg's The Night Battles that makes it clear that the battle for control of the Palm has repercussions far beyond a mere dynastic struggle and may jeopardize the world. His later works are more content to be "merely" about the scope of a single, sometimes large, nation.
37. Thmrit51
@BlueJo I vaguely remember a reference to the various peoples and cultures being planted on the Luck of the Wheels planet but it has been years since i read the books. still it seems like this would be case of Clarke's Third Law:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic
38. a1ay
You could imagine these crazy things going on beneath the surface and behind the scenes, without most of the world having any idea. But when the sky goes dark and fire rains down, or when a seemingly benevolent deity takes over the world, and when it's all over the media, people have to notice

"There is always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray,
or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this
miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with
their happy lives is that they DO NOT KNOW ABOUT IT!"
39. HelenS
He hasn't done 25 Rincewind books in a row.

For which I thank God fasting. I loathe Rincewind.
George Brell
40. gbrell
@35.Cecilia ML:

Except the beginning trilogy is premised on saving the world. I don't think the ultimate reveal reverses that premise (and wonder if Bayaz is really the best of two bad options...).

But for Best Served Cold and The Heroes, I'd agree. BSC presents an interesting case since it's a perfect example of sprawl as the stakes get bigger with each successive victim. I haven't read Red Country yet, but it sounds like it is more akin to The Heroes than the other books.

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