Wed
Feb 5 2014 12:00pm

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: Dust of Dreams, Chapter Four

Welcome to the Malazan Reread of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda (with Amanda, new to the series, going first), and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll cover chapter four of Dust of Dreams.

A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing. Note: The summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.

Note: As many of our rereaders know, and have already commented on (albeit vaguely in nice, non-spoilerish fashion) we will eventually be coming to an extremely horrific and troubling event, one that greatly disturbs many readers (as I believe is its intention) and which has even caused some to give the series up. We wanted to let you know that we’ve had discussions between ourselves and with our folks here at Tor.com, and we’ve decided that when we do get to this event, which won’t be for a while, we are going to dedicate an entirely separate post to discussion of it.

We hope this will do a few things. One, it will allow those who have no desire to focus or dwell on this event to avoid doing so. Two, it will allow us to broaden our discussion of the event as we’re going to try and place it in the context of violence/graphic detail in this series and in the genre as a whole. Three, it might allow Steven to chime in and give us some authorial insight into what he was thinking as he developed this story line and how he approached it (and the key word here is “might” as we’ve not yet broached this idea with Steven). As we near the time, we will offer more details, but since it has already reared its head in comments, we thought we’d address it now (also, just to be clear, at this point Amanda is maintaining her first-read stance and so is unaware of any details). We hope we can meet the needs of all of our readers in this fashion. Feel free to let us know what you think by contacting us through Tor (rather than discussing it in the comments section). Thanks!

 

CHAPTER SUMMARY

SCENE ONE

Camped along their trail, Kalyth prepares to “ride the Spotted Horse,” recalling how the shamans of her tribe (the Elan) took vision quests via a combination of potentially deadly herbs. She wonders if she is doing so to seek out prophecy and clues to finding a Mortal Sword and Shield anvil, or if she wants to see the ancestors of her now extinct tribe to see if they might forgive her. Overhead, Gu’Rull flies sentinel. She pops the herb mixture into her mouth.

SCENE TWO

Sag’Churok, Gunth Mach’s protector, overhears Kalyth’s whisper “Never trust a leader who has nothing to lose” and looks over, the only one of the three K’ell Hunters to pay attention. Sag’Churok thinks that “errors in judgment plagued Ampelas Rooted,” and thinks of the Matron and her spawn as “flawed,” leading to an “abiding sense of failure. He considers Redmask (another flawed person) and wonders if maybe the Matron relying on a human is not a bad idea. Gu’Rull sends a message of intruders ahead with lots of fires and when Sag’Churok wonders if what they seek might be there, the assassin responds, “The one who leads is not for us.” The scent he sends along with that prepares the K’ell Hunters for battle, but the assassin warns they should avoid battle, as they are so outnumbered. Gunth Mach tells Sag’Churok that the assassin wants their quest to fail, though he respects Sag’Churok. She adds that she could overhear Gu’Rull’s sendings because the assassin isn’t aware of her maturity, that she has hidden it from the others who think her a mere drone. She tells Sag’Churok “I am close, first love, so very close. He is shocked and asks about the matron, but Gunth Mach tells him “she cannot see past her suffering.” He tells the other hunters about he humans and says they will avoid them, but they should prepare themselves for eventual battle.

SCENE THREE

In her vision, Kalyth sees an old man with tattoos, digging before a jade monolith of a finger buried in sand. He tells her of an ancient tribe that quenched blades in sand as he is trying to do, though he has forgotten so much he believes he is doing something wrong. Asked if he is Elan, he says he can name hundreds of tribes and all have this in common—they are “”about to be extinct. Melted away in the fashion of all peoples, eventually… nothing but dust, even their names gone.” She replies that she is the last Elan and he answers that he is “readying myself to wield a most formidable weapon. They thought to hide it from me… even thought to kill it… The key to everything you see is to cut clean, down the middle. A clean cut.” After a discussion on vision questing, she tells him “The old ways have failed,” and he responds that “The old ways ever fail…so too the new ways, more often than not.” She begs him for something and he adds “The secret lies in the tempering… You weapon must be well-tempered… It is a flaw to view mortals and gods as if they were on opposite sides… Because then, when the blade comes down, why, they are forever lost to each other.” He pulls his hands out, which are rust-colored, and he says they are not green jade, “not this time, not for this.” But then says they aren’t ready and shoves them back into the sand.

SCENE FOUR

A group of scouts, faces painted white, approach the lone campfire. Gu’Rull kills all but two and takes off after those ones.

SCENE FIVE

Sag’Churok smells the battle but holds back, disappointed in the way the other two K’ell have lost control of their glands and thus shown their inexperience/immaturity. He thinks they will move out into the wastelands to try and avoid the humans, but such attempts would eventually fail if there as many as the assassin implied.

SCENE SIX

Gu’Rull ignores the dogs rushing back to the human camp, thinking them mere scavengers. He kills the two fleeing scouts and heads back.

SCENE SEVEN

Her vision of the old man fading, Kalyth hears him say “It ever appears dead, spiked so cruelly and no, you will see no motion . . Even the blood does not drip. Do not be deceived. She will be freed. She must. It is necessary.” She has a new vision of a burning plain and shadows overhead. She sails upward and looking down sees the fires are “crushed and twisted pieces of the kind of mechanism she had seen in Ampelas.” She wonders if this is a vision of the past or the future. She sees a battle, wonders “Humans? K’Chain Che’Malle?” but cannot tell. She exits the vision in a flash of fire/light.

SCENE EIGHT

K’Chain Che’Malle eat meat a lot.

SCENE NINE

Hetan thinks how her twin daughters (via Kruppe), Stavi and Storri, are good at manipulating their stepfather Onos Toolan, who tends toward indulgence anyway. She scoots them away and informs Tool that the clan chiefs are gathering, troubled, adding that a third haven’t sent anyone. She continues that most are saying those that haven’t, mostly from the south, have mutinied, “lost their way, their will. That they have broken up and wandered into the kingdoms…hiring on as bodyguards… to the Saphin and the Bolkando.” When she tells him outlying clans too have not sent anyone, he thinks that odd and she agrees. She warns him the chiefs need to be reminded of why they are there, but Tool says he doesn’t know if he can help. He says that though they rushed after the Grey Swords to fight the Tiste Edur, “we sought the wrong enemy.” Hetan agrees, saying there is no glory in defeating a crushed foe, with Tool adding nor one terrorized by their own.

 

She thinks how he has had trouble since becoming Warchief, how he was “deaf to the fury of the awakened Barghast gods . He’d shown no patience with those so eager to shed blood.” The prophecy, “which had seemed so simple and clear, was all at once mired in ambiguity, seeding such discord.” Hetan wishes Kilava had stayed, thinking her presence would help Tool, not just with the Barghast but in his grief for Toc. She worries about the restless young warriors, though she agrees when Tool says he sees no enemy. Tool tells her things were simpler with the Imass and she mocks the idea: He admits it is not good “to ignore one’s own flaws. The delusion comforts, but it can prove fatal.” She tells him he’s not dead and his response is “Am I not?” She closes the conversation by telling him, “We are White Face Barghast! Find us an enemy!”

SCENE TEN

Torrent is agonizing over being so close to the Awl’s homeland, where he is camped with the Gadra White Face clan and where he feels haunted by the ghost of Toc. The dogs from the slaughtered scouts find Torrent as he rides out from camp and he goes with two of them to where he spots some circling birds while the other dogs continue on to camp. As he rides, he recalls Redmask’s time, how Torrent had felt “contentment” then, killing Letherii, but how then Toc’s skepticism had shaken his faith in Redmask and what the Awl were doing. He thinks the Letherii could never in truth be defeated, with their “need to possess and rule over all that they possessed… desires that spread like the plague, poisoning the soul of the enemy.” Even the Barghast, Torrent thinks, are doomed, considering that “Invaders did not stay invaders for ever… Eventually they became no different from every other tribe or people in a land.” He thinks as leader of the Awl (a group of children already picking up Barghast ways) his task is to preside over their extinction. He finds the slaughtered bodies of the scouts and realizes they had fought a single huge foe. He heads back to camp.

SCENE ELEVEN

In the Barghast camp, Setoc sees the four dogs come in, noting that they “stank of death.” And she recalls how the wolves, “who had given her life… her first family” had howled at dawn. She is called “The holder of a thousand hearts” by the clan thanks to her having been found among the wolves that had eaten the hearts of the Grey Swords. The wolves are anxious about a gathering storm and “understood that she would be at the very heart of the celestial conflagration. They begged to sacrifice their own lives so that she might live. And that she would not permit.” She thinks she is the symbol of the wild and “it was this wild that must be worshipped.” She considers the words she will say to Cafal: “God, my children, is the wilderness. Witness its laws and be humbled. In humility find peace. But know this: peace is not always life. Sometimes peace is death…The wild laws are the only laws.” She thinks she will also tell him the Gadra and many Barghast would die, that “from the skies death was coming,” and that she will warn him to return to his own clan and make peace with his kin.

SCENE TWELVE

Cafal recalls his pretentious words to Paran long ago (“A man possessing power must act decisively else it trickle away through his fingers”) and wishes he could speak to him again, thinking what he had taken as indecisiveness had been instead wise caution. He thinks Tool is losing his power, but Cafal doesn’t know what to do about it. At news of the dogs, he wakes Talamandas and the two spar a bit. Talamandas tells Cafal the Barghast gods “cannot live in isolation. We cannot. They are stubborn… We need allies… Against what comes.” Cafal sees Setoc and thinks she “had been given back to the wild, a virgin sacrifice whose soul had been devoured whole. She belonged to the wolves, and perhaps to the Wolf God and Goddess, the Lord and Lady of the Beast Throne.” He thinks back to how the Barghast had come after the Grey Swords, seeking an enemy, the Barghast gods “eager to serve Togg and Fanderay, to run with the bold pack in search of blood and glory.” He thinks of them now as “worse than children.” Talamandas warns Cafal to cast Setoc out, but instead Cafal speaks to her. She tells him the warriors that just left will die, that the Barghast “have found the enemy, but it is the wrong enemy. Again.” When Cafal sends Talamandas to bring the group back, she warns him it doesn’t matter; the entire clan will die. She asks if he knows what he green spears in the sky are and he tells her that “the firmament is speckled with countless worlds no different from ours. To the stars and the great burning wagons [comets like the spears] we are as motes of dust.” She finds it interesting that the Barghast believe this, then seemingly makes a comparison between the spears and a hunter throwing his weapon at a dodging antelope. Before leaving, he asks her, as priestess of Togg and Fanderay, who the enemy is, and she replies, “peace.”

SCENE THIRTEEN

Badalle speaks words over Visto’s corpse, then they continue their march. Badalle and Rutt, still carrying Held, are joined by a new girl—Brayderal, who had joined the Snake two days earlier. She reminds Badalle of “the Quitters, the bone-skins who stood taller than anyone else… and commanded everyone and when they said starve and die, that’s just what everyone did.” She thinks if the Quitters found the Snake they would kill them all. She wonders if Brayderal thinks to take Rutt’s place at the head “when Rutt finally broke.” She does not like Brayderal.

SCENE FOURTEEN

Saddic, who worship Badalle, is walking behind Rutt and Brayderal. He considers that Badalle’s words weren’t for Visto but were for the survivors, and that she was telling them to “give up remembering. Give it up so when we find it again it all feels new . . The cities and villages and the families and laughing.” The Snake finds a waterhole and rests, even as scores die. Shards, flesh-eating locusts, attack.

 

Amanda’s Reaction

I like this about the seven herbs concoction: “Any one of the seven herbs, if taken alone, would kill. The seven mixed in wrong proportions delivered madness.” Talk about living on the edge when taking this oblong disc!

I feel sorry for Kalyth—she really has no real prospects of a good life, does she? Very likely to be killed, the last of her people; it’s no wonder she thinks this: “And might there not be another kind of salvation she was seeking here? The invitation into madness, into death itself? Possibly.”

I love the idea that the K’ell Hunters are sort of ‘activated’ in order to begin hunting and battle—the scales lifting, the innermost eyelids adjusting so that they can recognise heat signatures. It’s pretty damn cool—and makes them seem even more alien and dangerous.

Now this is intriguing, and definitely shows something to come: “Does he know of my growth? I think not. Only you know the truth, Sag’Churok. To all others I reveal nothing. They believe me still little more than a drone, a promise, a possibility. I am close, first love, so very close.” Close to what? If she is a daughter of the Matron, could she be turning into a Matron? Or a K’ell Hunter? Not entirely sure.

Every now and again I am forcibly reminded of how lovely Erikson’s prose can be: “Inside, outside, familiar, strange, that which is possessed, that which is covered, all that is within grasp and all that is forever beyond reach.” It’s just so elegant at times. It makes the reader work. I sincerely hope that the Malazan books will become true classics of the genre.

Okie doke—this old man: Heboric Ghosthands? The jade statue, the hands he is moulding into weapons, the thick tattoos of swirling fur? All seem to point that way, but I would be happy to be guided here. In fact, the whole scene left me bemused and wondering what he was talking about. Again, we have reference to a ‘she’: “Do not be deceived. She will be freed. She must. It is necessary.” What she? [Bill: ask and you shall receive]

Another wicked scene demonstrating the awesome killing ability of the K’Chain Che’Malle—this Assassin kills sixteen men like they’re nothing. Does it seem rather petty that he kills them and doesn’t allow the unblooded K’ell Hunters their opportunity, leaving them all fired up and nowhere to go?

Stavi and Storii give me the creeps, which is a little odd considering how much I adore at least one half of their parentage. Hetan I can’t remember much about prior to now. In fact, I can’t bloody remember how she ends up having Kruppe’s kids! Damn, I need a refresher on all these characters. I know we saw the Barghast when we followed Redmask’s story, but it seems a whole long time ago.

This sort of thing makes me wonder about Stavi and Storii: “Oh, they could be lovable enough, when it suited them, and, in sly gift from their true father, both possessed a natural talent for conveying innocence, so pure and so absolute it verged on the autistic, guaranteed to produce nausea in their mother, and other mothers besides.” Why does it produce nausea? And was anyone else completely jarred out of their reading by the presence of the word ‘autistic’? [Bill: yes]

Poor Tool—he seems singularly unsuited to leading the Barghast, especially in the aftermath of the death of Toc the Younger and the loss of his sister Kilava.

This is pretty sinister, and implies that any will do: “We are White Face Barghast! Find us an enemy!”

It’s interesting to see the same point a few times in this chapter—the tribal people gradually vanishing. Here we have it talked about in connection to the Awl being subsumed into the Barghast: “Undisputed ruler of a vast tribe of a few score children, some of whom had already forgotten their own language, and now spoke the barbaric foreign tongue of the Barghast…”

Here again a very pointed look at people: “Invaders did not stay invaders for ever. Eventually, they became no different from every other tribe or people in a land. Languages muddied, blended, surrendered. Habits were exchanged like currency, and before too long everyone saw the world the same way as everyone else.”

I don’t know, I find it sort of comforting that the K’Chain Che’Malle Assassin did not see the use of killing the dogs that have now approached Torrent. Sure, he is an immense killing machine, but his alien nature means that he doesn’t understand human beings or understand the threat of everything they could produce. Sort of like the aliens in War of the Worlds, who had no concept of bacteria.

Wow, isn’t Torrent just a wee bit depressing: “Yes, he was the leader of the Awl, the last there would ever be and it was his task to oversee the peaceful obliteration of his culture.”

How terrifying must it be to see that scene of devastation—the sixteen Barghast warriors destroyed—and start to realise the picture presented. That the devastation was caused by just one creature.

I’m embarrassed. I can’t honestly remember Setoc either. [Bill: Here for you, and our other first-timers] But this is what I note from her section: “She would warn him to look to the skies, for from the skies death was coming.”

And then this as well: “Are you saying that these spears of green fire are the javelins of a hunter, and that we are the antelope?” This is interesting—it implies that the jade statues falling through the sky have been sent by someone or something.

The snake is a dark thing to read about—and those locusts at the end are just horrible. Man-eating locusts. Not fun.

 

Bill’s Reaction

I like this description of the Elan vision quest, the “riding the Spotted Horse.” We’ve seen this need, this near-obsession, perhaps this defining mark of humanity/intelligence, to pierce that veil between worlds, to alter the mind, transcend this world. I both like the way Erikson presents it so frequently to show it as one of the defining attributes, and also how we get so many variations on a theme and all presented so concretely.

Speaking of variations on a theme, a few examples of more imagery of change/decay in this scene and chapter:

  • The extinction of the Elan
  • A sun “withered”
  • “the ashes” of her people
  • motivations “rotted through and through”
  • a “sickle of fire”
  • Heboric’s discussion of the ultimate fate of all people’s: “Everyone one of them is or is about to be extinct…”
  • The wearing away of the Barghast, the Awl, the Elan

I so enjoy finally getting the POV of K’Chain Che’Malle in this book. How often have we had our presumptions overturned by new POVs in this series? Will this happen here? Even if it does not, or does not fully, it is I’d say near impossible not to feel at least some connection to someone/something when one is within its POV. Authors count on this. And so even if the K’Chain Che’Malle, or these K’Chain Che’Malle don’t pull a Jaghut, even if they prove to be fiends, seeing through their eyes will automatically break through their sense of entire alien-ness that we’ve seen to this point for the most part. Allowing us their POV, letting us stand the Radley [K’Chain Che’Malle] porch gives us, in some meta-fashion, that empathy that is such a central theme of the series.

So here I like the parallels with our human characters: we’ve certainly seen flawed leaders, we’ve seen people following knowing they are following toward disaster, we’ve seen “a dull, persistent anguish.” And we’ll see several parallels with extinction and the last of one’s kind—the Matron fearing extinction for her people, Kalyth as the last of the Elan, Torrent as the last of the Awl.

The start of Kalyth’s vision is an image/theme we have seen before—this idea of buried time and memory—how the landscape holds what has been in different form: “A plain that had been the bottom of a lake…” A reminder of deep time.

A few questions re: Heboric’s lines in the vision:

  • So what weapon is Heboric preparing to wield? How/where was it hidden? How could a weapon have been “killed”? File.
  • Against whom or what is he planning on wielding it? For whom or what?
  • Is this the weapon: “It never appears dead, spiked so cruelly and no, you will see no motion, not a twitch. Even the blood does not drip. Do not be deceived. She will be freed. She must. It is necessary.” Here is a reminder from House of Chains:

They fall down a sandslide into the pit, Lostara ending up next to an edge. Pearl cast a magical light and they see “An X-shaped cross, tilting over them, as tall as a four-story building. The glint of enormous, pitted spikes. And nailed to the cruciform — a dragon. Wings spread, pinned wide. Hind limbs impaled. Chains wrapped about its neck, holding its massive wedge-shaped head up as if staring skyward to a seas of stars marked here and there with swirls of glowing mist.” Pearl points out it is enclosed in a “pocket warren, a realm unto itself.” Lostara says it could also be sealing an entranceway and Pearl thinks she may be right. He tells her the dragon is aspected: “Otataral. Her aspect is otataral, woman. This is an otataral dragon.” Pearl tells her it’s still alive and “this thing devours magic. Consumes warrens.” When Lostara objects, saying all the old stories say dragons are the “essence of sorcery,” he responds: “Nature always seeks a balance. Forces strive for symmetry. This dragon answers every other dragon that ever existed, or ever will.” He points out dragon tracks, at least six, and says that solves the question about who could chain/crucify a dragon. They step through the gate “into a realm of gold fire,” that was, “for the moment, survivable” though it sears their lungs. In front of them is a pillar shaped like a pyramid, carved with the names of those who chained the Otataral Dragon.

  • So will she be freed? And if so, why? What is the intended effect? What might be the unintended effect? File.
  • What sort of “clean cut” is being envisioned?
  • The finger is pointing straight toward them—what? (OK, this one seems pretty easy) File.
  • And after Heboric comes this last vision, which Kalyth is unsure of in terms of it being past or future. A battle. A confusion of K’Chain Che’Malle and humans. Shadows overhead. A blinding light. File.
  • Hmm, pretty much just file this whole vision quest. If Kalyth wakes no wiser, perhaps we readers wake a little wiser.

That’s a nice image of Hetan’s twins and how they avoid looking too closely at each other so as to not “ambush [their] own innermost feelings”—the very human fear of examining ourselves too deeply, scared of what we might find there.

It’s also a lovely and very cute domestic scene—the two girls playing innocent, plying their outnumbered and out-manipulated father. Lovely and cute. Hmmmm.

“Long before their coming of age, of course, tribal life among the White Face Barghast would beat that out of them, or at least repress its more vicious impulses, all of which were necessary to a proper life.” Some tough love in the Barghast socializing process, it seems.

In the midst of this domestic musing, this line echoes a bit more broadly in the series: “it was no easy thing to measure evil, or even to be certain that the assignation was appropriate.” Recall our readerly first reactions to those evil Jaghut, for instance. A reaction that Hetan does a nice job of puncturing with her upbraiding of Tool here: “You had a ridiculous war against a foe that had no real desire to fight you. And so instead of facing the injustice you were committing, you went and invoked the Ritual of Tellann.”

Since the Jaghut, we’ve also had the evil Crippled God. The evil K’Chain Che’Malle. Are our “assignations” appropriate?

From the domestic to the political, where it seems trouble is afoot in the Barghast world:

  • Southern clans are losing their way (something btw we have seen before amongst tribal groups—this breaking up and linking up in some way with “strangers.”
  • Outlying clans haven’t sent emissaries, yet mutiny doesn’t appear to be a possible answer as to why.
  • The young warriors are getting restless, “eager to see their swords drink blood,” eager for battle and glory (and note here, the parallel to the two young K’Chain Che’Malle with Sag’Churok, his disdain for their own eagerness for battle)
  • Tool’s leadership is being questioned (by himself as well)
  • There are schisms among the chiefs, among the shamans
  • The newly awakened Barghast gods are eager for an enemy, having been thwarted in their desired war of vengeance against the Tiste Edur

There is such a tone of finality in so many of these early scenes, such an abiding sense of loss as we’re faced one by one with characters who are the last of their kind—Kalyth the last of the Elan, the K’Chain Che’Malle the last of their kind, now Torrent the last of the Awl. And I like how Erikson gives us to them in differing stages. The Elan, it appears, are wholly gone. The Barghast are numerous and yet seem to be disappearing at the edges. The K’Chain Che’Malle are on the brink and trying to forestall extinction and so have a shot. The Awl are about to disappear, still having a few young ones, but these will not be Awl, as they “had forgotten their own language, and now spoke the barbaric foreign tongue of the Barghast, and had taken to painting their bodies… and braiding their hair.” So we see the extinction in process-not one of violence (though that precipitated this), but one of assimilating. A question might arise though and that is, how much are we supposed to mourn these? Or is it as simple as mourning or celebrating, since nothing is life is so simple, so black and white. Maybe there are things to mourn and things to celebrate in this kind of extinction, assimilation. There is a loss of richness, of variety, of different means of viewing the world, of uniqueness (as when later Torrent thinks: “before too long, everyone saw the world the same way.” On the other hand, it is easy to fall prey to the “Noble Savage” way of thinking, prizing overmuch what was lost simply because of that loss, assuming that what came before, what was unique, what predated assimilation was somehow purer, cleaner, nobler. Are there aspects of Awl life, Barghast life, Elan life, etc. that the world is better off without? That they are better off without? Do we/can we sit in judgment or not on these?

Torrent’s line about how once everyone sees the world the same way, then “if that way was wrong, then misery was assured, for virtually everyone, for virtually forever,” seems a nice call back to one of my favorite Shadowthrone lines: “Acceptable levels of misery and suffering... Acceptable? Who the fuck says any level is acceptable?”

Based on what we’ve seen of certainty in this series, one wonders (hopes?) this bodes well for Torrent going forward: “Torrent had cast away his faiths, his certainties, his precious beliefs.”

A little reminder as we move to Setoc here. Here is a quick recap from an earlier chapter reread:

Stayandi (Abasard’s sister) recalls leaving the city for their settlement on the plains, the slaughter by the K’Chain Che’Malle, Abasard’s death, and how she had fled for days/weeks. She is adopted by wolves for a while then wakes alone to find the wolves had run off rather than face a hunter wearing wolf pelts and with a white painted face. He crouches down to her and when he leaves, she follows. And “Redmask tells Toc the wolves came and took the hearts of the Grey Swords”

So clearly we have Setoc associated in this scene with the literal wolves in the area, but also with the god Wolves Togg and Fanderay, and thus with the Beasts and, as she thinks of it, “the wild.” Something to keep in mind as we go forward, because clearly the agenda of people and the wild are seldom aligned. We’ve seen many a reference in this series to the horribly destructive impact of humanity on the wild—the beasts and the land—including not long ago the Snake’s description of Stump Road and the deforestation that took place there. We get a sense of where Setoc’s sympathies lie with her view toward the camp dogs: “[she] felt a rush of sorrowful regret at what such beasts could have been, if their wildness was not so chained, so bound and muzzled.” And then later when she makes clear to Cafal that the laws of the wild are the only laws (not leaving room for human laws) and there is more than a bit of edge and threat in her declaration that “Sometimes peace is death.” Then of course there is her whole “you’re all going to die, die, die!” pronouncement. More precisely along with that, the death is going to come “from the sky”—we’ve got several options here for sky deaths—good old Gu’Rull flying around up there, and the jade spears. Plus, Heboric’s words about freeing the otataral dragon. Then there are other dragons out there, several of which we’ve seen. Lots of dangerous things up there. Are there potentially others?

Nice to see an older, wiser, self-aware Cafal here. Also, this is our second mention of Paran here—where is he and what is he up to?

So the Wolf gods appear to think something big is coming (a “celestial conflagration”) and now Talamandas is warning us of something big coming, something that if the Barghast are to survive they’ll need allies to do so. But not, seemingly, Setoc and the Wolves—what does Talamandas fear so much about her?

I like the play with Setoc and the rhinazan—those “smaller” winged lizards (just a little smaller than Gu’Rull)

So per Setoc’s conversation with Cafal, are the jade spears being “aimed”? Or do the Wolf gods just like the idea of the possible devastation? Because let’s face it, if you’re rooting for “the wild,” then a nice little extinction-level comet collision would be pretty ideal. Of course, if not that, then warfare would also suit you, wouldn’t it? Also knocking off lots of those pesky humans, if on a somewhat smaller scale.

Clearly we might want to keep an eye on this Brayderal. And should we worry about her “too white” face and unusual height? Her resemblance to the “Quitters” who can command folks? And who would kill all the Snake if they learned of it?

This scene is a glossary of horror that one thinks can’t get any worse. Until it does. And that is our lingering close.


Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.

49 comments
Jordanes
1. Jordanes
On reflection, one thing that probably turned me away a little from Dust of Dreams was the 'humanisation' of the K'Chain Che'Malle. It jarred with me to see these very mysterious, wholly alien creatures suddenly have regular human-style conversations (albeit telepathically). For me, it took something away from their characterisation, rather than adding to it. I think it would have been possible to expand upon the depth of their characterisation (both their race and some individuals) without actually getting it first-hand from their point of view (heck, Erikson manages that all the time).
Chris Hawks
2. SaltManZ
A couple of bullets:

• My second-and-a-half read through the series, and I still couldn't remember where Setoc came from. Danke, Bill!
• On a related note: Man, it's weird coming back to characters we haven't seen since MoI, or, if we did, only in passing at the end of RG. (Amanda, Hetan bedded Kruppe at, I think, the meeting that saw the White Face Barghast join up with the Malazans/Andii alliance in MoI.)
• Wow, the foreshadowing is coming fast and furious, and it all went way over my head the first time. Heboric, the Otataral dragon, Setoc's warnings, Kalyth's vision, et al.
• Who are Badalle's "bone-skinned" "Quitters"/"Quisiters"? If you haven't guessed it already, next chapter will spell it out for you.
• Speaking of which, next chapter is SO. AWESOME. I'm almost done with it already.
• Finally, if you like Erikson's handling of themes like vision quests, native peoples, extinction, and the like, you owe to yourself to check out his "The Devil Delivered". Fantastic stuff.
Kara English
3. Rucket
Hey everyone! I've been trying to catch up on the reread and have finally done it. Thank you so much Bill and Amanda for doing this. This series is my all-time favorite and you all have helped a lot in answering my questions. A reminder of who Hetan was. In MOI she is first encounted by Gruntle, Harllo, and Stonny as they travel to Capustan. She has her fun with Harllo, shamlessly tries to get Itkovian to break his vows, and then has her way with Kruppe to get him to shut his mouth (it only works for 2 days).
Ryan Dick
4. Wilbur
Good call on separating "The Event" into its own page for discussion (not that it will be confined to that page, but it will at least siphon off some of the emotional energy.)

In the first book where we met Hetan and Cafal, didn't the survivors of the seige of Capustan in Memories of Ice find a bunch of buried Barghast boats and swords under city hall? Didn't this imply that the Barghast had been driven out of Lether by the Tiste Eidur? And didn't one of the characters indicate that the cool swords would be given to special Barghast children, so that they would grow up using them and become master swordsmen?

So whatever happened to those swords and those kids? Weren't the Barghast ancestor-worshippers, so their gods are actually their (great^x) grandparents who thought up this whole swords plan to begin with?

The misdirection in Setoc's "from the sky death is coming" is very good, but why does she start out her section of the book with a paean to the unqiue, simple, nomadic life? Ironic, isn't it, given her actual ethnicity as a Letherii and their lack of respect for nature and the other cultures on Lether?

Is her expressed desire for peace and living simply in the old ways why Talamandas is so set against her? Or is he aligned with the Barghast ancestor gods, and in a struggle against her wolf-gods?

Heboric, Heboric, why can't you once in all these stories just say something straight. I am pretty sure you are important, but you sure are opaque, and I feel dumber every time you appear on stage.
Sydo Zandstra
5. Fiddler
Without wanting to spoil anything, I think at this point Erikson has lulled the readers into believing the White Face Bhargast are a unified group of clans.

But remember when Trotts and his squad members went there in MoI, they were far from that; plenty of feuds. Only Humbrall Taur managed to keep them unified as long as he did.

These are no noble savages, not in any way, and they never were. Keep that in mind.
Jordanes
6. Jordanes
@ 4 Wilbur:

"In the first book where we met Hetan and Cafal, didn't the survivors of the seige of Capustan in Memories of Ice find a bunch of buried Barghast boats and swords under city hall? Didn't this imply that the Barghast had been driven out of Lether by the Tiste Eidur? And didn't one of the characters indicate that the cool swords would be given to special Barghast children, so that they would grow up using them and become master swordsmen?

So whatever happened to those swords and those kids? Weren't the
Barghast ancestor-worshippers, so their gods are actually their
(great^x) grandparents who thought up this whole swords plan to begin
with?"

Your summarisation of the events of MoI is certainly correct. What happened? Well, plans met reality happened. As no.5 Fiddler has put it so well, the White Face Barghast are anything but a united people. The jubilation over retrieving their gods from Capustan which united the clans has lasted as far as this - basically, pretty much the first real obstacle/dilemma they've come to since. They were supposed to sail away to reclaim their ancestral lands from the Edur - but the Edur are gone, defeated already. And the Barghast who managed the feat of uniting them - Humbrall Taur - is dead (off-stage, frustratingly), and in his place we have someone who, from their POV, isn't even Barghast, and is leader only by virtue of the fact that he is married to the daughter of Humbrall.

When it comes to the Barghast traditions and way of life, you have to hand it to Erikson. None of these things are new revelations, and these splinterings and their predilection for violence could all be seen in MoI. I remember also a scene with Trotts in MoI, where he pretends to be the 'noble savage' for a laugh, which does telegraph the fact that we shouldn't expect something like that myth being made incarnate by the Barghast.
Nadine L.
7. travyl
I liked that the K'Chain described the humans as "Intruders in vast herd"

And how tragic (Hetan): "‘I see no enemy,’ her husband said now. - Yes, this was the crisis afflicting her people."

Re Heboric: I sure didn't understand anything he said, and neither did I catch the reference to the dragon.

@2. Salt Man, Re Quitters: wow, I never saw that spelling is just so little off. I always thought she named them Quitters, because they quitted lifes.
Chris Hawks
8. SaltManZ
@7: Re Badalle: Ah, but she does, doesn't she? Her thoughts go something like (paraphrasing here): "What did the adults call them? Quisiters? Quitters? Yes, Quitters is a good name, because that's what they do." Or something along those lines.
Meg K
9. KittenSwarm
I'm so excited to finally have caught up to the reread! I had read the series up through Bonehunters, had to put them down for a time, and decided to restart from the beginning and follow this reread series as I went through. The observations and discussions here have been phenomenal and really enhanced the books for me. I haven't faced a book that encouraged such critical reading skills in some time. I love that I'll be able to go through Dust of Dreams and Crippled God for the first time and finally comment. :)

As far as this chapter goes, I'm really happy that I picked up on Heboric's line referencing the Otataral dragon. One of those moments where the mentions to "file" something during this reread really came through for me!

The other bit that stands out to me is Heboric talks about making a clean cut, down the middle... then later in his speech states that it's a mistake to think of gods and mortals on opposite sides. So the division or cut he advocates isn't a clean bisection of gods from mortals.

Setoc talking about "death from the sky" brought Sky Keeps to mind for me, mostly because things coming from the sky has so long associated with Moon's Spawn in this series. Maybe the Short-Tails that were glimpsed in the warren as a massing army will appear?

The Quitters/Quisiters naming is similar sounding to how a child might simplify "Inquisitor". The passages about the Snake continue to be at once horrifying and evocative. Reminds me of the bleaker sections of the Chain of Dogs, only played out on helpless children. Back to the echo through the series that children are dying.
Darren Kuik
10. djk1978
Welcome Rucket and KittenSwarm. Always good to have more people posting.

I disagree with Jordanes. I'm with Bill on the KCCM. It was nice to get a pov from them. All we saw of them before was mindless killing machines, whether as undead in MoI or as Redmask's allies in RG. Knowing something of their motivations and emotions was interesting.

The Barghast are pretty sad. A few individuals aside at this point they aren't particularly likable. And it's pretty unfortunate that they can't find a meaningful existence without an enemy to fight. Goes a long way to explain their constant feuding of tribes when there is a lack of outside enemy to face.

Heboric, cryptic as always. I missed the Otataral Dragon reference the first time around, but there's no doubt that is what he's referring to.

4 chapters in and already a mass of moving parts and plot lines. And we haven't even met nearly all the players in the game... :)
Iris Creemers
11. SamarDev
@ Bill, good to see you back! Nice analysis, especially the parts about the function of the POV of the K'Chain and your musings about our assessment what is evil in these series.
(and happy as I am with your post of today, are you still planning on giving us your take at last friday's chapter with that powerful Reading?)
Iris Creemers
12. SamarDev
@ Amanda
the K'Chain glands are pretty cool indeed, but maybe less alien than you think. We humans are also provided with adrenaline, testosterone or whatever other hormones our body thinks helpful (skipped biology early in highschool ;-)) when facing a fight or flight situation.
Jordanes
13. Tufty
The K'Chain POVs didn't take me out of the narrative or anything, but I did always find it a bit weird how the K'Chain function so much like an insectoid hive structure like bees, with different classes mass-bred by the Matron, etc, and how all the "mass" classes (K'ell, V'goth) seem to act so un-sentiently, but then the PoV sections show that they are all individually quite smart and capable of independent thought, personalities and growth (other than the drone-class Gunth Mach refers to). Even some in-book characters will remark at one point how the individual K'Chain are much smarter and sentient than they seem. The duality of how they are presented like that seems a bit odd. I hope SE does a Q&A after this one 'cause I'd like to ask him for some insight about why he chose to depict them like that.


I do like Setoc's sections - she does a great little bit of "looks and talks like a human but there's nothing human within"
Jordanes
14. BDG
NOTE: this essay/rant was set off by one of Bill's comments about assimilation. It got long and a lot pent up feelings about how the Malazans are shown got out, so I'll some up my thoughts: no assimilation should never be celebrated, and occasionally should be mourned.

Ah assimilation. While I don't have rose-colored glasses of how my people lived before Empire but I also mourn our continued assimilation into Canadian society (mostly because we're expected to assimilate while at the same time being treated as second-class citizens but I digress).

While I understand SE railing at cultural relativity (which by and large I think the Awl etc is really about) I don't fully agree with his conclusions. Maybe because we come from different times in the same field but for me cultural relativity is not an excuse to do nothing about the state of the world but rather letting everybody (very specifically those who have been negatively affect by European imperialism) self-determinate without an outside source interfering. As an aside I obviously don't support absolute cultural relativity as it is a license to excuse all manner of terrible deeds done in the name of one’s culture (which might be what SE is talking about when he says ‘cultural relativity’).

Often in the books we see the savagery (hold the noble though...just uncivilized savages around these parts) of tribal groups, or small societies but rarely do we see the savagery of the Malazan empire (I know, I know just let me finish). The Malazan Empire and it's mode of war and assimilation in reality is far more destructive and dare I say 'evil' than anything a tribal group could possible do. Genocide is easy (in a sense violence is easy...one must simply commit it not maintain it), terrible, and ultimately the worst of humanity. Creating a system that makes one destroy their identity and way of life in such a way that they not only hate themselves but also hate others like so much so that they attempt to assimilate themselves even knowing they'll be treated like second class citizens all for the altar of glory and wealth is (and I don't say this lightly) inhuman.

In pretty much every book (except GotM, MT, and TtH) the Malazan empire, or rather the Malazan culture has been seen as 'good' (well as good as this series can get). In DG the glorious Chain of Dogs is seen as good despite the Whirlwind literally rebelling against a large, violent, terrible empire that has stolen their lands. In MoI again it's the Malazans to the rescue despite being an invading force on the continent. HoC chains, the inner council of the Whirlwind are all shown to deplorable human beings while the leader of the 6th an empathetic leader (who kills her own sister but this is glossed over as tragic rather than monstrous). In TBH despite the Malazan army chasing a group of native peoples to their death they are still shown to be in the right (while the leader of the rebels does a despicable thing...I see a pattern). In RG, again the Malazan as saviours (of the Lethrii the bad imperialists over the ‘savage’ Edur).

This post has gotten to an epic length so I'll conclude here. While I love the series, and I often agree with its overview of the human condition I strongly disagree with the picture shown of assimilation, the 'noble savage' (of being completely savage or if not that soon to die to their savage brethren), or the Malazan empire. Assimilation is insidious destruction of ones identity, itself a kind of death (for what is death of personal extinction of identity?), for the means of profit most of time (or even more sadly a conscious decision to fit in to a society that will still view you as different). To even suggest at 'celebrating' assimilation is, I find, to be a gross assumption that whatever culture they're assimilating into is somehow better (one that would be of the highest ethnocentric order). While I don't think SE or the MBotF actually show this in a positive light or shown as black or white as I making it out to be but I find it odd that the Malazan culture, one based on assimilating others and turning native populations against each other (and the land they live on) for profit as, while not benign, morally right in conflict for the majority of the books. I also find it odd that the Malazan culture can somehow produce so many humanists (even more oddly from the armed forces...or perhaps not that odd, they would have the most contact, see the most suffering).
George A
15. Kulp
@14
While I'm not going to get into the topic of cultural relativism, I definitely see your point about empire. I'm reading through this series again and some of the points you make about the Malazan Empire ring true for me. Looking at the big picture of the series, the Malazan empire is glorified for their expansionism. This expansionism is justified by many of our POV's saying things like "things are so much better after the Malazan's cleaned this place up." The Whirlwind rebellion was a group of people fighting for their independence, and they end up being the "bad guys" who the empire wipes out.

Aside from BDG's discussion, I found that my reaction to DoD was similar to my reaction to RG. Reading through RG, every time I hit on a chapter from the POV of one of the Letherii or Edur's plot lines I found myself missing the Malazans. Same goes for this book. This chapter had some interesting sections for me (KCCM oils, Heboric) but overall I was pushing through it to get back to the Malazans.
Jordanes
16. Jordanes
@10 djk:

"I disagree with Jordanes. I'm with Bill on the KCCM. It was nice to get a pov from them. All we saw of them before was mindless killing machines, whether as undead in MoI or as Redmask's allies in RG. Knowing something of their motivations and emotions was interesting."

Ah, but I didn't say they should have remained unknowable, and even one-dimensional. I'm saying that I thought there could have been other narrative ways of getting inside their minds without very literally getting inside their minds. We don't necessarily need a 'humanised' conversation between two of them to learn of their motivations and feelings.

I think perhaps Tufty's post is very much related to the problems I had with them.



@14 BDG:

I think you raise some very nice points re the Empire. I would say that the issue with the 'independence' movement in DG is that it was very quickly taken over by elements which had little to do with the original motivation of independence. Who end up being two leaders of this rebel movement? Korbolo Dom and Mallick Rel. Moreover, the ideal of independece is soon cast aside in favour of vengeance.

To give it a probably crass real-life comparison, it's somewhat like what we see in Syria now.
Brian R
17. Mayhem
@BDG
I refer you back to a great quote from HoC chapter 4.

‘The Malazan soldiers in Genabaris said the Seven Cities was going to rebel against their occupiers. This is why the Teblor do not make conquests. Better that the enemy keeps its land, so that we may raid again and again.’
‘Not the imperial way,’ the Daru responded, shaking his head. ‘Possession and control, the two are like insatiable hungers for some people. Oh, no doubt the Malazans have thought up countless justifications for their wars of expansion. It’s well known that Seven Cities was a rat’s warren of feuds and civil wars, leaving most of the population suffering and miserable and starving under the heels of fat warlords and corrupt priest-kings. And that, with the Malazan conquest, the thugs ended up spiked to the city walls or on the run. And the wilder tribes no longer sweep down out of the hills to deliver mayhem on their more civilized kin. And the tyranny of the priesthoods was shattered, putting an end to human sacrifice and extortion. And of course the merchants have never been richer, or safer on these roads. So, all in all, this land is rife for rebellion.’

Karsa stared at Torvald for a long moment, then said, ‘Yes, I can see how that would be true.’
The Daru grinned. ‘You’re learning, friend.’
‘The lessons of civilization.’
‘Just so. There’s little value in seeking to find reasons for why people do what they do, or feel the way they feel. Hatred is a most pernicious weed, finding root in any kind of soil. It feeds on itself.’

I definitely understand where you are coming from - my part of the world has an equally ugly history of conquest and feuding between tribes. Yet I would differentiate between the destruction of a culture through forced assimilation into an imposed standard, and the gradual merging of disparate cultures into a polycultural blend. The first is negative, it lessens both parties. The second is positive, all parties gain from each other.

The first is an example of what is happening to the Awl. The tribe has collapsed so far that there is nothing left to save. The few survivors are clinging to their rescuers and within their generation the Awl will be gone. Similar scenes would have happened in 7c with the chain of dogs - it is explicit that several plains tribes were shattered in combat with Coltaine, and the survivors would have been conquered by whoever remained most powerful. Ditto with the Letherii and the Nerek, the Faraed, and the Tarthenal, who were all but obliterated but for the intervention of Tehol.

Under Malazan occupation however, there is little to no forced assimilation. There is freedom of religion, and relative peace between tribes. The young and warlike are redirected into the military, and serve overseas, broadening perspectives and promoting tolerance of other points of view. Some of this happened through conquest, some through alliance, but the general result on the vast majority of the citizens within the empire is portayed as positive.
And there is a reason for that, a dictum imposed from the top that was to a certain extent followed.
From TTH, chapter 14
‘It is because we understand you, Toblakai, that we do not set the Hounds upon you. You bear your destiny like a standard, a grisly one, true, but then, its only distinction is in being obvious. Did you know that we too left civilization behind? The scribblers were closing in on all sides, you see. The clerks with their purple tongues and darting eyes, their shuffling feet and sloped shoulders, their bloodless lists. Oh, measure it all out! Acceptable levels of misery and suffering!’ The cane swung down, thumped hard on the ground. ‘Acceptable? Who the fuck says any level is acceptable? What sort of mind thinks that?’
Karsa grinned. ‘Why, a civilized one.’
‘Indeed!’ Shadowthrone turned to Cotillion. ‘And you doubted this one!’

An example from our world would be the occupation of Australia & NZ by the British Empire. Australia is a good example of type 1, where the Aborigine population was treated extremely harshly, even to the point of removing children from their families to bring them up as decent god-fearing citizens. Not a shining light I have to say. Today they still cling to their culture in many areas, but in others they are devastated, and frankly may not ever recover. The country has had international settlement, but they tend to be highly regional, not intermingling.

NZ is more of a type 2 - firstly Britain never conquered it militarily, they were forced into terms for settlement. Terms they promptly abused, but which today give the indigenous alegal frmework for a much greater say. Maori culture is relatively thriving*, and the country as a whole has a wide range of international influences, from across the pacific and asia. And it blends - classrooms when I grew up were multicultural, today they often have a distinct minority of european descent, but all associate themselves as kiwis.

*though it varies significantly by tribe and there are still a lot of problem areas.
Brian R
18. Mayhem
Also Fiddler beat me to a very key point.
Remember back in GotM how alien and barbaric Trotts seemed to the other Bridgeburners, all filed teeth and eating hearts. In MoI he makes it very clear that the Malazans are now his tribe, and he fights for them as a soldier, not a warrior.
And the Barghast are emphatically a collection of warrior groups, with the traditions and discipline issues that such entails.
For all Tool's experience, he was the pre-eminent warrior, the First Sword, not a clan leader like Logros. And I think that he might just be fundamentally unsuited to rule, while at the same time being a great leader tactically.
Jordanes
19. BDG
See my argument isn't that assimilation can't be a good thing it's that it is rarely a good thing. To have a good assimilation the two parties would have to meet on even ground, history has shown us this rarely happens if ever. You use NZ as an example though follow it with 'varies significantly by tribe'...which would be an example of a bad assimilation but I'm willing to tip my hat to NZ doing as well as they can. My main points still stand in pretty much any place touched by (forced) assimilation. Even for the Awl it took an empire and genocidal manic born of that empire to become assimilated.

My other point was not that the Malazan Empire is a good or bad empire but rather it's not highly realistic (oh I know it's a fantasy setting but rather neck deep on realistic cycles of human societies). It doesn't have slaves, it (and I doubt all those occupied cities think so, assimilation through the force of economic might is just bad as through residential school and far more clever) supposably does not force assimilation and yet it still exists? I honestly doubt the culture of the empire could socially reproduce as such because a) humans don't like being taken over, even it's for the 'greater good' and b) how are they getting everyone to assimilate to their way of life? I guess they could be like the USA and use some kind of idealistic 'dream' to pull people away from their families and ways of living and sense of history or belonging to become part of the empire but that doesn't really stop them from becoming second class citizens within. You could argue it's meritocracy but it has been shown in the text it is not.

In a series that often goes for the gut punches about human nature I feel like the Malazan culture is a highly idealized verison of 'the White Man's Burden' but instead of a race of humans it's a culture. Kind of like the Roman Empire but far more progressive. Which brings me around to the point of cultural relativity (which I sure more and more what the book is ultimately about). I find it...I don't know if hypocritical is the right word, but I find it odd in a series that so often shows the 'fallacy' cultural relativity that it has an highly idealized version of something that has never, and I mean never, worked well in terms of justice and moral goodness in our own world.
Sydo Zandstra
20. Fiddler
Off topic:

"Unfortunately, the release date for the item(s) listed below was changed by the supplier, and we need to provide you with a new estimated delivery date based on the new release date: Erikson, Steven "Fall of Light: The Second Book in the Kharkanas Trilogy" Estimated arrival date: February 27 2015 - March 04 2015"

I hope Steven isn't having plot problems like GRRM encountered...
Jordanes
21. Jordanes
@19 BDG:

"I find it...I don't know if hypocritical is the right word, but I find it odd in a series that so often shows the 'fallacy' cultural relativity that it has an highly idealized version of something that has never, and I mean never, worked well in terms of justice and moral goodness in our own world."

But is it actually idealised, or are you conflating the rather positive (overall) depictions of various soldiers in the Bonehunters with views on the Empire as a whole?

Let's go back to the quotes which 17 Mayhem expertly found. Yes, the Malazan Empire does appear to have started out as being founded, at least, on the idealised notions which you describe. This happens under the very unique personality and talents of the Emperor Kellanved. Thus, with Seven Cities:
with the Malazan conquest, the thugs ended up spiked to the city walls or on the run. And the wilder tribes no longer sweep down out of the hills to deliver mayhem on their more civilized kin. And the tyranny of the priesthoods was shattered, putting an end to human sacrifice and extortion. And of course the merchants have never been richer, or safer on these roads.

But then, even Kellanved - even Kellanved - is forced to bow down to the reality of imperial domination:
The scribblers were closing in on all sides, you see. The clerks with their purple tongues and darting eyes, their shuffling feet and sloped shoulders, their bloodless lists. Oh, measure it all out! Acceptable levels of misery and suffering!’

So the Empire, within the span of its first ruler's reign, already begins to shift to something less idealised, less perfect.

And when that happens, Kellanved and Dancer abandon the Empire they had built up. They don't want to be a part of that. So they leave 'civilisation', i.e. the Empire, behind, to attempt to achieve their goals through another avenue.
Sydo Zandstra
22. Fiddler
Interesting discussion on Malazan expansion/assimilation.

I noted that the later forms of assimilation used by the British Empire were used here to compare. For those interested, France and The Netherlands used different assimilation strategies than the English did. African colonies were considered as part of France, and the Dutch set up separate administration layers in Indonesia, leaving the existing one intact.

But when comparing the Malazan 'style', I always think of the Roman Empire. Maybe it's because they use the same weapons mostly, although I see more similarities. ;)
Steven Halter
23. stevenhalter
I enjoy the KCCM viewpoints quite a bit. To quote Steven Brust, "POV changes everything." It's a good technique.

The Barghast are essentially lost. They thought they had found a purpose in going back and reclaiming their homeland, but find it changed beyond recognition. They had an immediate quest (reclaim the homeland) but had forgotten a key piece of their history and so are drifting and falling back into their prediliction for internal strife.

The Malazan Empire is different from empires here on Earth in that it a tool directed towards a means directed at an end. Its first means was the ascension of Cotillion and Kel to the positions they now occupy (although they may have had ideas about a slightly less bumpy ride). The end I'll leave unsaid. They also wanted at least parts of the empire available for use (or at least as an ally) as they approached that end and so wanted some mechanisms in place to allow for the non-collapse of the Empire after their removal from the immediate scene.
Meg K
24. KittenSwarm
I am also really thinking on this discussion of Malazan imperial assimilation. We're introduced to the Empire through the purging of the Mouse Quarter during civil unrest, and see Whiskeyjack's attitude toward such actions by the Empire. The first book or two maintained that feel of the Empire as untrustworthy and bloated/greedy beyond its capabilities to properly govern, but at this point in the books our bond with the Malazan characters in the Bridgeburners and BoneHunters overshadows that.

In contrast I don't think anyone walks away thinking the Letherii cultural crushing of weak tribes and insidious assimiliation of stronger groups is a good thing, no matter how fond we are of Tehol, Brys, and the Ceda.

@22 I agree Fiddler, the Malazan Empire has features of the Roman Empire for me, probably due to a Western focused education. The idea of the strong cult of personality following Dujek in the military
(and Laseen's fear of the same with Whiskeyjack) brings the political and military influence of certain Roman generals to mind.
Joseph Ash
25. TedThePenguin
Since everything else I was going to say has been said... all I have is

K’Chain Che’Malle eat meat a lot.

Thanks Bill :)
Brian R
26. Mayhem
I'd also say the Malazan Empire has a lot of similarities to the Mongol Empire, what with a powerful military with promotion based on merit rather than birth or citizenship, freedom of religion, promotion of the arts (remember official military historians and artists accompany each army), heavy support of trade and a light touch rule with a mailed fist backing it up. They also were relatively tolerant of womens rights, banning restrictions on travel and the chinese practice of foot binding.

The Mongols also had little to no forced assimilation of conquered cultures - if anything as time went on they themselves were assimilated into the lands they ruled. The east became Buddhist, the west Islamic, and the influences remained well into the 20th century in many disparate regions.

I also suspect that the Malazan Empire as a contiguous conquest may well turn out to be equally short lived in the world of Wu, though events to come may change that.

As for the Empire being portrayed as a force for good for the populace - even Rake admitted as such back in MoI

Kallor rasped. ‘This was to be a war of liberation—’
‘Don’t be a fool,’ Rake muttered. ‘Is there wine or ale? Who will join me in a drink?’
Brood grunted. ‘Aye, pour me one, Rake. But let it be known, whilst Kallor has uttered foolish statements in the past, he did not do so now. Liberation. The Pannion Domin—’
‘Is just another empire,’ the Lord of Moon’s Spawn drawled. ‘And as such, its power represents a threat. Which we are intending to obliterate. Liberation of the commonalty may well result, but it cannot be our goal. Free an adder and it will still bite you, given the chance.’
‘So we are to crush the Pannion Seer, only to have some High Fist of the Malazan Empire take his place?’
Rake handed the warlord a cup of wine. The Tiste Andii’s eyes were veiled, almost sleepy as he studied Brood. ‘The Domin is an empire that sows horror and oppression among its own people,’ Rake said. ‘None of us here would deny that. Thus, for ethical reasons alone, there was just cause for marching upon it.’
‘Which is what we’ve been saying all along—’
‘I heard you the first time, Kallor. Your penchant for repetition is wearisome. I have described but one ... excuse. One reason. Yet it appears that you have all allowed that reason to overwhelm all others, whilst to my mind it is the least in importance.’ He sipped his wine, then continued. ‘However, let us stay with it for a moment. Horror and oppression, the face of the Pannion Domin. Consider, if you will, those cities and territories on Genabackis that are now under Malazan rule. Horror? No more so than mortals must daily face in their normal lives. Oppression? Every government requires laws, and from what I can tell Malazan laws are, if anything, among the least repressive of any empire I have known.
‘Now. The Seer is removed, a High Fist and Malazan-style governance replaces it. The result? Peace, reparation, law, order.’ He scanned the others, then slowly raised a single eyebrow. ‘Fifteen years ago, Genabaris was a fetid sore on the northwest coast, and Nathilog even worse. And now, under Malazan rule? Rivals to Darujhistan herself. If you truly wish the best for the common citizens of Pannion, why do you not welcome the Empress?
‘Instead, Dujek and Whiskeyjack are forced into an elaborate charade to win us as allies. They’re soldiers, in case you’ve forgotten. Soldiers are given orders. If they don’t like them, that’s just too bad. If it means a false proclamation of outlawry – without letting every private in the army in on the secret and thereby eliminating the chance of it ever remaining a secret – then a good soldier grits his teeth and gets on with it.
‘The truth is simple – to me at least. Brood, you and I, we have fought the Malazans as liberators in truth. Asking no coin, no land. Our motives aren’t even clear to us – imagine how they must seem to the Empress? Inexplicable. We appear to be bound to lofty ideals, to nearly outrageous notions of self-sacrifice. We are her enemy, and I don’t think she even knows why.’
‘Sing me the Abyss,’ Kallor sneered. ‘In her Empire there would be no place for us – not one of us.’
‘Does that surprise you?’ Rake asked. ‘We cannot be controlled. The truth laid bare is we fight for our own freedom. No borders for Moon’s Spawn. No world-spanning peace that would make warlords and generals and mercenary companies obsolete. We fight against the imposition of order and the mailed fist that must hide behind it, because we’re not the ones wielding that fist.’
‘Nor would I ever wish to,’ Brood growled.
‘Precisely. So why begrudge the Empress possessing the desire and its attendant responsibilities?’


@Bill
Since the Jaghut, we’ve also had the evil Crippled God. The evil K’Chain Che’Malle. Are our “assignations” appropriate?

And to add one more name to that list of characters ... Mallick Rel.
Jordanes
27. BDG
@ Mayhem I don't you quiet understand what I'm saying (probably because I'm not clear) it's not that Malazan is a positive force in the world (which it is shown overall to be, against all odds...and for this to be this everywhere else has to be shown as lesser, less peaceful, wretched hives of slavery and hate) I'm saying the empire as shown is a highly unrealistic depiction of empire. The Mongols burnt cities to the ground and commited genocide on mass scale, the Romans enslaved entire populations for the glory of Rome, the Aztecs sacrificed enemies to their gods, the Brits subverted science and religion to say it was their right to own the world and then punished those who didn't agree...empires have been shown again and again to be a wholly terrible force in the world. Sure they bring order, but only because they'll butcher thousands upon thousands peoples beforehand. But we are not shown that, or if we are we are shown in short bursts, but we do see the moral depravity of tribal folks again and again. It's funny that we see the 'savages' call others barbarians but rarely do we see that word escape from a Malazan. The second part of it is obviously perhaps we've only seen the 'good' Malazans but I highly doubt that such a culture, that one that is focused on conquer (which would, if history has shown us anything, come with a sense of dehumanization of the enemy...barbarianization so to speak of the enemy) would produce so many humanists, we are after all a product of our environments.

So either you assimilate or you die...which I guess shows why everyone either ends up rebelling (and are shown as terrible people for doing so) or assimilating (which is shown to be for the betterment for everyone). So yeah colour me skeptical of the goodness shown of the empire and it's people.

As an side-note yes I am one of those people who have a problem with DoD, but overall I don't hate it...it pretty much the book were my recurring problems with the depictions of the empire come to the head. I'll be happy when we're done with it and get on to tCG...one my favourite books in the series (how's that hypocrisy haha).
Bill Capossere
28. Billcap
On the K'Chain Che'Malle, while I do enjoy getting their POV, I can understand the desire to keep them more alien while still broadening their characterization beyond mere killing machines. And I can understand the concern; it’s at the least very difficult (if not nigh impossible) to make a POV of an alien that doesn’t in some fashion “humanize” it. Because it has to be “human” enough for us to understand something of, otherwise why not just have the text be a bunch of triangles and ovals when they speak/think? An interesting post outside this thread for Tor might be an exploration of books/authors that have come closest to capturing true “alien-ness” in characters

Speaking of stories involving vision quests, native peoples, etc. (as Saltman did), I’d also highly recommend Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman, one of my top reads this past year (though I’d totally get it if some folks found it very slow).

Rucket—thanks for the Hetan recap, hadn’t even realized that some might want a reminder (so much, so much . . . )

Kittenswarm—welcome and look forward to hearing your first-timer thoughts at the end here (I already like your ideas in this chapter)

Thanks for the nice words SamarDev. I do plan on addressing the reading. Just wanted to get this week’s posts in timely fashion. But I hope to catch up in the gap between now and Wed.
Bill Capossere
29. Billcap
Re the whole empire/assimilation idea (and this is not thought out—just musing off the cuff with some half-baked responses and devil’s advocate in there and procrastination of essay grading)


Should the portrayal of empire focus simply on the Malazans? After all, we’ve seen the Letherii empire as a pretty terrible example, and while I’m not sure the Pannion counts, it might be enough in the neighborhood to serve as another example of empires as bad ideas. In other words, Empire isn’t “always” presented as one thing or another.

Even the Malazan Empire isn’t presented as one thing or another. We do have the Aren massacre, and certainly there’s no attempt to hide the fact that well-intentioned or not, resulting in better conditions or not, their ability to impose said intentions/conditions rests upon their ability to effectively and efficiently kill lots of people. We have civil war, mass mistreatment of subjects, purges, xenophobia, etc. And we have several Malazan characters who at least wonder a bit about that and their methods (and more to come as well if I recall correctly). And certainly Karsa makes some salient points about not ceding the world to “civilization” And of course, we are getting a relatively singular point of view for the most part.

Should we take what we see as “Empire?.” We might consider that what we see is a very narrow slice of time. If the Malazan Empire lasted 1000 years, could this be the glorious period of relatively enlightened Empiring, meaning it’s representative of what it is in this moment, not of “Empire” as a concept? Being so personalty-driven—first Kellanved then Laseen, that would seem to give us some pause in ascribing it a larger representation. Especially (without going into too much detail) if Empire here is not a purpose/goal but a tool.
While we can discuss on realistic terms, there’s no escaping it is fantasy. Does the use of magic—as weapon, as defense, as threat, as communications, etc.— distort any attempt to compare it wholly to “Empire” in our world? Or the way magic affords a path to power past the usual birthright one of empires? In other words, is the prism of “is it realistic” the right prism to use when discussing the Malazan Empire?

A quick reminder that some of our characters were themselves conquered, which may go a ways to explaining why they haven’t, or haven’t yet, succumbed to dehumanizing others. OK, I wanted to go more into this, but my son is about to walk through the door from school, so I’m just going to end (at least now) with the idea that what seems to me to be presented is not simply Malazan Empire as “good”, but a more complicated stew. I think we’re struggling with some of this as readers because we’re meant to via the author but also because how can one not? Nothing, or almost nothing, is all one thing or another. I’m not sure I can go so far as to say I can never celebrate assimilation, if said assimilation brings to an end some of the horrid cultural practices that are linked to “tradition”. On the other hand, I’m also pretty sure I can’t go so far as to celebrate the by-definition loss that comes with assimilation, the erasure of just a bit more richness, a bit more color.

Finally, I’ll just say, I love that we can pivot into this kind of substantive discussion from these books, something I keep saying is difficult to do in many others.
Brian R
30. Mayhem
Hmm.
I think the Malazan conquest of Seven Cities was more in line with what you suggest than you realise - the T'lan Imass slaughter of the population of Aren for example is treated as essentially a war crime, especially by those persecuting Barathol Mekhar for opening the gates.
The scouring of the Mouse under Tattersail was equally squalid.

What we don't see - and it is an interesting point you raise that I hadn't really thought through - is the dehumanisation of the opposition.
For all the wars, for all the up close POV from the soldiers in the trenches, we always see the enemy as human. Not necessarily favourably - the Letherii are somewhat looked down upon for example, but even at the end - at the sorcerous apocalypse outside Lether when Beak gives his life - there is still a tolerance ... a belief in shared humanity, even between the Malazans and the Edur.
Perhaps that is only possible due to the presence of other species, and actual gods, which is something we never had.
As Terry Pratchett eloquently put it once -
Racism was not a problem on the Discworld, because — what with trolls and dwarfs and so on — speciesism was more interesting. Black and white lived in perfect harmony and ganged up on green.

To be fair to the Mongols as well, they never actually killed as many as popular history made out - they slaughtered around 9-10 significant cities of the hundreds they conquered, but let the word of that spread fear amongst their enemies, meaning most capitulated without a fight. Up until the invasion of the persian Khwarezmids they hadn't even done that, but the Shah offended the Khan greatly by mutilating his ambassadors, and within two years the Khwarezmids were utterly destroyed.

Of course, rampant destruction of agriculture and the ensuing famines across the middle east didn't do the locals much good, but that can be said of most invasions in history, the prime difference here was a matter of scale. The spread of plague across the empire was also a factor in depopulation, the drastic improvements in communications and transport being equally good at transmitting disease.

I can understand what you are arguing, certainly european colonial occupations were highly variable in their effects with the Belgians in Africa being near the nadir, and reading up on the history of the First Nations in Canada, much of the treatment strikes me as being extremely similar to the dreadful policies enacted in Australia. I can certainly see where your dislike of the idea of Assimilation comes from - it seems to be a highly loaded phrase up there.

But I'm not convinced that imperialism is inherently bad. The Tang Dynasty in China was a marvel of its age, with stability and prosperity to most inhabitants, though the civil war that accompanied its decline led to the loss of something like 10% of the population of the world at the time. The Srivijaya empire in Malaysia lasted some 600 years, before disappearing without trace until recently being rediscovered, but they managed to settle Madagascar and traded freely with the East, India and Arabia until the 1300s.

The biggest leap of fantasy I think SE took was the whole idea of basing a series and an empire on the idea of compassion ... and the key tenet of experiencing compassion is to understand your opponent, to empathise with them, and to feel what they feel. Any civilization that can do that *has* to be a humanist civilisation. And in our world ... most likely knocked off shortly afterwards by the followers of the violent monotheistic tribe from the next valley over.
David Thomson
31. ZetaStriker
I see where you're coming from to an extent, with the way the armies we follow are shown in such a positive light, but I don't think the Malazan Empire has a whole is shown positively at all. Lasseen can be interpreted to be incompetent and paranoid, and the empire under her guidance follows a strategy of sacrificing the few to retain the status quo of the many. The Letherii are shown as the worst kind of Empire, and the Malazans as the best, but even the latter have all kinds of problems that cause the "acceptable levels of suffering" that people keep quoting. It's why Kelanved left, and it's why every army we've liked has been cast out and left to fend for themselves.

It may be easy to confuse "Dujek's army" or "Tavore's army" as the Malazan Empire, but if what we see in Malaz City is any indication they don't represent the nation as a whole. Think of the people in the city who accept and even help with culls, both in the Mouse Quarter and in the Wickan's lands. The soldiers that blindly fought their own in the attempted killing of Tavore's followers, and of course the Claw which turned upon itself and its founder. Corrupt officials are abound, and it seems that only pragmatic military men, following the lead of the open minded veterans that came before them, match the altruistic view that Kellanved had hoped his empire to have. Our impressions may differ, but I never thought the empire was portrayed as perfect saviors.
K La Rocque
32. KML
@ 26
So, essentially, what Rake's saying is they're fighting to retain a place in society? So those whose nature is to fight and beat others will still be valid and contributing members, even if on the fringes? To remain ... useful?

*sigh* I have the worst time putting my thoughts into words.
Humans have a need to feel superior. Whether it's religion, race, humans vs animals or if you have the best looking lawn on the block; as long as this is pandered to, there will have to be "lesser" people/things. We create groups just so we can look down on those who aren't in them. We are supposed to have such big brains, yet what do we tend to do with them?
Jordanes
33. BDG
China is not like Malaz though, it's a united culture who shared similar languages, writing, and religion. I don't know much about Srivijaya but it seems they too were a united society. Malazan is for all intense of purposes an expansionist empire, one more similar to Roma or the Europeans Colonist Empires. So I find it a tad bit disingenuous to depict them as such (as the best possible solution in a crapsack world, full of soldiers who are also humanists who see every enemy not seen as an enemy but rather a struggling human who should be given as much empathy as possible) given the precedent of the series showing the ugliness of humanity. I'll be frank, my family and myself have been on the ass-end of 'empire' and 'assimilation' and it sucks (I speak your language, act like you, dress like you but still I'm going to get pulled over for being young, male, and brown...forget about it!), and this experience is obviously colouring my argument BUT even looking at the history of Wu the Malazan Empire compared to other empires is unique in its people's compassion.

I'll try to clean up my argument a bit. As I've previously stated I don't think the work or SE is given us a clean-cut paragon of goodness. I do think that the Malazan Empire is more so than not shown to be morally right in the books when compared to everyone else (except for maybe the fine folks of Darujhistan) they come up against despite being invaders the vast majority of the time, and a violent one at that...it reminds me, in the worst ways, of 'the White Man's Burden' argument. Where ever the go they seem to bring good ol' civilization to the natives who have of course been the most terrible of people before hand to both each other and to outsiders. Now I'm not sure this is actually true or if this actually the narration of the Malazans being ethnocentric jag offs. There seems to be some kind of disconnect between the rest of the world and the Malazans that have previously thrown me off.
Brian R
34. Mayhem
@32
Yep, I think that is part of it. But there is also an underlying implication in MoI that Rake fights to give his people something to fight for ... to combat the ennui that immortality brings, and to try and keep his Andii as a part of the world still, lest they fade into nothingness. With Rake gone, it will be interesting to see what Nimander does in his place to provide them with a purpose.

In the initial invasion of Genabackis, the Crimson Guard fight purely to oppose the Malazans due to the conquest of their ancestral lands. The Rhivi and Barghast fight to retain their lands and way of life. The Mott Irregulars fight simply because they can, and because noone knows how to get rid of them. Caladan Brood and the Andii though ... they are *so* much older, they see such things very differently. I think they fight simply for the right to continue to be. And Kallor fights because he never learns not to ;)

@BDG
China is not like Malaz though, it's a united culture who shared similar languages, writing, and religion
All I will say to that is refer you to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinicization and point out that by far the largest tourist market for China is other parts of China, many of whom put on traditional cultural shows for the tourists promoting their own ethnic heritage, which alternates between being promoted and being persecuted by central government.
China is a living breathing example of both the good and bad parts of complete assimilation of variant cultures into a dominant culture, rather than a meld between peers such as India, or a thin ruling layer imposed on top as in the Roman or Mongol empires.
Bill Capossere
35. Billcap
BDG
A few ideas. And to be clear, I’m not necessarily debating you on the good-bad Malazan imperialism issue but I find the underlying “how do we view” “how do we process” to be extremely interesting. Is there a basic problem—a writerly one, a fictional one, a readerly one—if in fact Erikson is portraying the Empire in this window of time as unique (not saying he is)? Is it OK if it simply is the case that it is unique in the here and now of this fictional construct? If we’re shown several bad empires (Letherii for instance), do all the examples have to be similarly bad or is it OK to have one break the monotone coloring? Does it have to conform to an historical/realistic Empire in our world and if it does not, does that automatically create resistance in your viewing?

Similarly, can it conform to an historical/realistic view if it is set in a fantasy world where magic exists, where Gods intervene, etc.? In other words, are those differences so fundamental, so qualitative to the “Empire experience” that one simply can’t make an easy analogy to how Empires behave in the “real” world?

Are invaders of a necessity more immoral than the invadees? I’m asking because of your phrasing in that this Empire is shown to be often “morally right . . . despite being invaders.” Do you see the fact that they employ violence, as you say, to make them necessarily less moral than those they invade, or do you see that violence as perhaps purposely (or merely as a sidelight) complicating/compromising their “more so than not” moral rightness?

Are we perhaps making a mistake in conflating the army we see with the Empire “culture.”? I get your point about skepticism that “such a culture would produce so many humanists,” but (ignoring the whole authorial cherry-picking of POVs thing) is it possible that an army created/guided/tended by a duo who are highly focused on compassion/empathy and “humanism” (“ruthless” so in oxymoronic fashion), whose commanders buy into that and are hand-picked as are their successors, and whose ranks are also made up of a variety of groups, might produce an unusual number of conformists? (recalling that we do see slackers, thugs, pychopaths, corrupt figures, war criminals, traitors, etc as well, even if we don’t get their POV)

I’m curious what you would have liked to have seen to ameliorate some of your response, if anything could have given the starting premise of an empire as a force mostly for good? A more varied collection of soldiers/POVs or a more positive portrayal of some of the conquered showing that pre-Malazan world was clearly better than the post-Malazan world? And again to be clear, this isn’t asked in snarky “what would you have written” fashion (always hard sometimes to have these online discussions) but in curiosity as to what this writer could have done differently to avoid this sort of readerly response.

Btw—my I’m not sure avoidance was the goal; my guess is “skepticism” is the right attitude (after all, we know it’s not certainty, right?) to have toward this empire.
Jordanes
36. StevenErikson
Hello everyone, and in particular BDG, whose post at #33 has at last forced me to respond. To say I take exception to your interpretation of this series is a bit of an understatement. Other readers have come on in response to your comments, employing quotes from various novels in the series to indicate the efforts at balance being worked towards, and have cited real-world corollaries, but it seems that these have had little effect. Assimilation is a loaded word these days, and most examples raised decry the loss of sovereign self-determination, cultural identity and the loss of the inherent mechanisms of social organisation and control that exist in any and every group of people (howsoever they identify themselves as a distinct group). In this context, assimilation is often redolent with paternalism or maternalism among the ones imposing the assmiliation ('for their own good,' etc), which immediately asserts a notion of superiority/inferiority -- and from that all sorts of injustice results. All of which is undeniably true.

Coincidentally, I've been mulling the subject of 'empire' lately, as it will be the theme at this year's ICFA (International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts), and I will be sitting on the conference's opening panel. As soon as we begin discussing 'empire' we find ourselves moving into the subjects of colonization, assmiliation, self-determination, cultural relativity, and so on, all in the context of post-colonial literary criticism, as it applies to, in this case, Fantasy and SF. By and large, the whole topic is still highly charged and polarized, so I am anticipating a lively discussion.

In any case, my thinking always tends to the long view on such matters. As anyone with any interest in such things, there is now plenty of genetic and archaeological evidence from which we can make the following observations: at some point in human evolution, we found ourselves in a bottleneck -- modern homo sapiens all oirginated from a relatively small population in NE Africa (or, rather, somewhere in Africa). When climate conditions changed, we then began expanding our range. Only to find that earlier waves of 'near-humans' had beaten us to it, occupying our preferred niche in Europe, Asia and all the way into Indonesia, if not further. So, what happened when we encountered these 'indigenous' populations? Well, we shared some genetic material (assmiliation) but otherwise utterly replaced them. The earlier populations of Homo Ergaster, H. Erectus, Denisovans and Neanderthals, all vanished. In this respect, every human being on this planet has a legacy of colonization in their ancestry. We moved into new areas and pushed out whoever preceded us. The genetic evidence for North and South America indicates successive waves of immigrants from the Old World, with the oldest genetic line found in the southern tip of Patagonia. Now, it's unlikely that those first adventurers eschewed all of that land they crossed in order to choose to live in a barren, inhospitable coast facing Antarctica. Successive waves pushed them there.

Like so many (most) other lifeforms, we are blatantly expansionist in nature. You can argue for and against the righteousness of the thing: we can pull a rug over our shared heritage and concentrate on only the most recent examples, but to attempt to extract rules of propriety and injustice quickly bogs down in the specific.

Now, bear in mind that nothing above is intended to excuse atrocities associated with said waves of expansion. Far from it. We don't live in the general: we live in the specific. But this was always the point both Cam and I were trying to make with this series. The specific is messy. It is confused. It displays good and bad, and nowhere in the whole thing is there a place for using one to counterbalance the other, as if one good deed can blot out one bad deed, or one moral gesture erase an immoral one. More to the point, attempting to assert one side as good and the other as evil, is as careless as trying to assert one is superior and the other inferior -- as if might makes right or, in more 'scientific' terms, it's all just survival of the fittest. All of this is, to my mind, utter nonsense.

How do we define the 'good' or the 'evil'? By what measuring stick? Is it all about freedom? Self-determination? Those Maori and related tribes of New Zealand and nearby islands were all engaged in tribal genocide and forms of human torture that makes what's coming in DoD pale in comparison. So, 'freedom' to kill every man, woman and child in the neighbouring village? The 'self-determination' to call those other people your enemy, and to wage an endless, endemic feud of mutual slaughter? Or, let's take the alternate view, me being white and male and all that. By expressing my own culturally defined notion of freedom, well, why NOTcharge across the width of America in a land-rush as proof of our liberty to exploit every possible resource and hopefully get rich by it? As for self-determination, why, the US was founded on that notion: of course, only as it relates to white-skinned people, at least to begin with, when the new country was busy deciding who was in and who was out.

In the wrong hands, in other words, freedom can be a killer, and self-determination, as some kind of virtue, the driving force of uninhibited destruction. And for the 'Western' example, throw in notions of manifest destiny along with a cultural system of acquisition that makes a virtue of avarice and personal power, and suddenly, expansion and colonization assumes a most frightful guise. But only in the detail: the specific. The blunt truth is, expansion is always destructive for someone or some thing.

The sad reality is, the dominant (and dominating) attitude in our world is one that sees as virtuous certain behaviours that many non-dominant (oppressed) peoples find appalling, and with good reason. But this too rolls in waves throughout human history. Some early big-game hunting group in North America invented a technology and a lifestyle that centred on killing big game -- the biggest game there was -- and they expanded accordingly. At least until all the big game was extinct. Then their culture effectively collapsed. Some lessons, it seems, need be learned over and over again. As much as society and societies will argue about justice, the Earth delivers its own, and it doesn't play favorites.

Given all this ... apologetic towards the Malazan Empire? No. White Man's Burden regards the victims of expansion? Now you insult me. But ... writing in answer to the polarized notion of post-colonial thinking, so busy demonizing everything colonial? Why, yes. I see no clean hands here. Does that make me cold-hearted? Well, it could, if I wasn't writing a series in the name of compassion, in the name of the burdens we all share, in the name of humanity itself.

The Malazan Empire is a fantasy, our answer not just to what would something like the Roman Empire be like if it used magic instead of slavery, but also our thought-game about an empire born of wholly humanist sentiments, and the subsequent rapidity with which it would become corrupted once the driving personality running it disappeared from the stage. Does that make it a revisionist apology to the notions of empire, expansion and conquest? Do you imagine us that naive?

One begins the thought-experiment with a 'what if?' and then apply to it all one has regarding your sense of how things work -- your sense of human nature itself -- and then see how it all plays out. The question of whether the Malazan Empire is 'realistic' points more to a person's sense of what is and what isn't possible, not just in a fictional world, but also in our own.

In that vein, BDG, consider again the quotes extracted by other readers on this site: those quotes highlight the questions being asked in this series, and they ARE being asked. What value choosing sides, when we're a lot more alike than any of us care to admit? What value this notion of 'freedom,' when its expression can run from the clothes you choose to wear to the enemy you choose to slaughter, or the gender you choose to oppress or denigrate? At what point, to ask yet another question, does the notion of cultural relativism finally turn upon itself, focusing as much on one's own culture as on all those other ones? When do we finally take notice of the explicit hate-mongering on this internet, the abuse of and attacks upon women? The rape-clubs in universities?

Now, that last bit may seem off-topic, but it isn't, because there's a new colonizer on the block, replete with its memes, its defenses of its freedoms, its acclaimed right to self-determination. It's yours and it's mine, and man, some bits of it seriously suck.

That said, let's talk Empire....
Steven Halter
37. stevenhalter
@SE:You give great answers.
The many sided dies of the internet spinning about the axis of freedom and constraint. Some faces show compassion and som abuse. But, it isn't just a random process as we make very deliberate actions. We can choose to be the abuser or we can choose to stand against such actions. Compassion goes a long way on the internet as it does for the founding of imperial designs.
Jordanes
38. BDG
Well damn, I almost didn't reply, stricken with fear that I had actually insulted you. No small sadness as you are a personal hero of mine (actually got me originally looking into anthropology and eventually taken classes in the first place but that's an aside). But I decided to at least give you a reply, least me be some kind of coward. Certainly you've said something for me to think about not only within the series but overall about how I view the world.

As another aside I'm well aware of humanity's...legacy so to speak. The mass extinction, the capacity for destruction, the grand delusions of ownership over nature and other humans beings, the certainty of being righteous. My own family history is rife with bizarre violence to each other, great-great-grandpas stringing up distant cousins for stealing horses and distant cousins putting a hatchet great-great-grandpa's head. Your depiction of that was not where my problem aroused, as you said no clean hands, but that Malazans seemed to be expectation to that (in a sense both superior and morally 'good'). But then again I might be making this to personal on my part, I tend to identify with White Faces, and the Awls, and the Setis and given my history with 'empire' or rather imperialist practices I...let’s just say I went all in when I should have held my cards close to my chest. A personal interpretation my scholarly self knew wasn't completely right.

I am also aware of the failures of cultural relativism, and the results of absolute cultural relativism--a place where everyone ignores the suffering of others in the name of 'freedom' but I still think it's a useful tool for some of colonized to get back on their feet as it were, to give some people hope in continued existence. Something to remind them that there was something else before the rampant poverty, alcoholism and suicides. I don't think freedom (or self determination) is the end all be all of goodness (as some argue on the internet or the factory owners during the industrial revolution who argued their right to profits were greater than those of workers right to not live in squalor...I am aware of the fact that one’s freedom can easily turn into someone else’s oppression) but I do think everybody should be allowed some small measure of it. I view it a tool, as I do most other things you've mention, to be used with caution. But a tool that can indeed lessen the suffering of some.

With all that said I still think you pulled your punches with the Malazan Empire, and re-reading my comment it does look like I'm accusing you of something more sinister but that was not my intention. Multiply times I tried to clean up my argument with each failure I dig a deeper hole for myself so I'll give it one last shot (after this not much point trying, when the author shows up because you're coming off like an ass all hope is lost): I don't think the Malazan Empire could possibly exist in Wu (even with the driving force Shadowthrone and Dancer), not in the form were shown at least. I got too bogged down in the 'realistic' argument with silly comparisons forgetting this is a work of fiction. For me empire by definition is not something interested in compassion and humanist tendencies but something obsessed with power, control, and profit. This, I suppose, cross-wired with what is being shown in the text and I got ahead of myself. Anyways thanks for the reply, as always you've given me much to think about. Sorry if I came off as raving lunatic. I think I’ll keep personal experience away from the text next time, it never leads to good things with me.
michael
39. worrywort
Don't forget, BDG: Even though MBotF is a complete work and this discussion has been worthwhile, we do know 1) the late-period Malazan Empire isn't too far off in the future (re: HoC) and 2) the Karsa trilogy will no doubt continue to touch on some of these issues. In other words, there are curveballs left to come, and at least in that light patience is a virtue, however much we fans struggle with it.
Bill Capossere
40. Billcap
BDG
Just want to say that at no point did you come off as a "raving lunatic." Or either of those if not wholly that. Or close to it.

And I'm not sure how you can keep personal experience away from the text--it's you reading it after all. But I also hope you don't keep it away from discussion, as I think it is our personal experiences and readings of the text that bring so much richness to the conversation. How sad to have this discussion only amongst those for whom empire has mostly meant "us good guys." And how dull would it be if after every post everyone just went "Uh-huh. (nod heads in unison). Yep. Next!"

keep it coming!
Joseph Ash
41. TedThePenguin
Speaking of tribal culture (in Wu), how about the DESIGNED tribal culture of the Treblor, designed by Icarium (the Hulk, you wouldn't like him when he's angry! and he has green skin), someone we have seen to be both incredibly compassionate, and extremely violent, all while being quite intelligent. He designed a tribal system for the few remaining Toblaki in the area that would allow them to continue on and not suffer severe genetic defects from excessive inbreeding, which was brilliant, but relied upon raiding, slaughter, and rape to be successful!
Remember this was done intentionally, by someone who is obviously well travelled and well learned. But he basically took them and said you go live here, you go live there, stay in your villages, and every few years go try to kill each other, if you kill a man, you have a right to rape his wife/children and take them back to your village.
Now maybe he had seen tribal societies just like that and decided it would work for the problem he had at hand. But to make that conscious decision to tell people to do that, WOW. Not sure where this is really going in the larger conversation, but it came to mind...

In the larger context of "Malazan Exceptionalism" we see that the founders of the empire had a VERY different purpose in mind when they created their empire, something that has been hinted at a few times, so I dont know if we can really say what the end result of the empire is, we haven't gotten there yet! But I think we can say that yes, Malaz IS the exception, although with Tehol on the throne now (one who purports to hate everything the Letheri society stands for), they may not be the lone exception (but again, we have to wait and see).

BDG: None of us can know precisely how you experience this, but through conversations like this we can do our best, and hopefully everyone comes away wiser.

Its so great to see the author chime in in these discussions, to keep this whole series going as more of an open dialogue then a dictation. Something that I think makes this series so special.
Jordanes
42. StevenErikson
Hi BDG,

No need to apologize, and please, continue to contribute to this site: your perspective is both rare and valuable, and I for one greatly appreciate it. While I wrote a lot in the previous post, I want to quote one line from it that touched on the point I was (and am) trying to make:

"The question of whether the Malazan Empire is 'realistic' points more to a person's sense of what is and what isn't possible, not just in a
fictional world, but also in our own."

To assert that the Malazan Empire cannot but be unrealistic can be seen as cause for cynicism and indeed, depression. If we cannot feel that things can be better than they are; and that a more just way of living is possible, why fight the good fight? Realistic or not, we looked to creating a version of what is possible -- is it possible for an empire to be morally just, or honourable, or respectful of human dignity? As it turns out, there have been blips in human history, rare to be sure, where an empire or nation achieved a kind of enlightened, polyglot, egalitarian civilization -- most often due entirely to the personality of its leader, but sometimes due to the sheer proliferation of distinct cultures all brought together as a single polity. In that sense, it is possible. Some examples include certain periods in Byzantine history, or, much earlier, the Persian Empire (disregarding the Greek propaganda to the contrary).

In any case, the point remains: we have to strive to make things better, and the core belief fuelling our efforts has to be found in the conviction that we can do better. On one level, one could state that the last empire was the British one, but on numerous other levels, imperialism has hardly gone away, although these days it is expressed economically, meaning it still focuses exclusively on resource extraction, and the drive to extract those resources run roughshod over local peoples, regardless of their cultural identity, and in blunt refutation of human rights. Accordingly, it is the system and its underlying belief structure that needs to change, meaning every battle on the ground is essentially waged against a mindset of exploitation -- of resources, of people.

BDG, whatever battle you're fighting, personally and culturally, is in response to a legacy of injustice, and that needs to be addressed: more to the point, that injustice needs to be recognised not just as something that happened long ago, but as something that is ongoing. So, for what it is worth, never apologise for your anger: I would rather hear and read you rail than proceed under delusional bliss of its absence. Please, continue to raise these issues in the midst of this re-read.

Be well.
Yours,
Steve
Jordanes
43. Mr. Warren
SE touched on someting I know alittle about being a Kiwi

"Those Maori and related tribes of New Zealand and nearby islands were all engaged in tribal genocide...."

this article here
http://www.celticnz.co.nz/Bes%20&%20Thor/Bes&Taranis.htm
will give you a bit of insight to How the Maori came to New Zealnd and thier differnces with the poeple who where already here. Now the modern day Maori do not like to remined of the nasty stuff they got up to in their tribal past so much and most would say that the article is just a bunch of bollocks rooted in myth and speculation depite the evidence it appears to produce. Now it is my opinion that the Maori came to be a war like people because of colinizeation, when the orginal abarigonals where subsequently beaten war had become a way of life and so turnned on each other.

When the english colinalists came they where rather taken aback at how eager the Maori where to fight, the New Zealand wars where rather brutal and scared the hell ot of the english, eventually they had to produce a treaty which was taken the length of the country and signed by all tribal cheifs, The English promptly ingored this treaty by simply saying one thing and doing another effectively pulling the wool over the eyes of Maori and the Treaty of Waitangi wasn't recogized as legit till 1975 . The treaty stipulated that NZ would become part of the brittish empire and settlers where allowed to come and do thier thing as long as Maori kept thier lands to do with what they please, but what really happened was a little similar to what happened to the native americans in that thier land got taken away from them and they where told to go somewhere else, although I'm unsure if there was a 'reservation' type set up for the Maori.

The English basically where not counting on such a ferice resistance from such a small population of tribals, so changed tact and used economics where warfare failed. The Treaty was a unique thing, what happened after was not.

The MBotF touches on some of this and to be honest I kinda forgot the point I was trying to make with in the lesson of NZ history, but I guess I can ask, with all the questions of empire good or evil and what not, was it such a bad thing the English came and put a stop to all the infighting of the Maori by eating them] ? or was it just as dispicable to pull the wool over thier eys and steal thier land for crown and country?

I fully admit I may have gotten some facts wrong too , so if the need arises correct me please.
Brian R
44. Mayhem
@BDG
Never be ashamed to bring personal experiences into discussions like this. You bring a very different perspective, that many may never have considered, and that is always worthwhile. To be fair as Zeta put it ... the Malazan Empire doesn't fit your argument *at this time and in this setting*. Give it a hundred years, and the situation could well be *very* different.


@Mr Warren
The idea of white skinned red haired inhabitants of NZ prior to the Maori settlement has been widely discredited, along with the idea that the Moriori were also endemic and oppressed by the Maori. (turns out they were genetically related to Ngai Tahu, and migrated around 1500-1600 from the South Island to the Chathams)

Almost all the claims date back to the early 1900s, and are racist or political in nature, mostly to try and discredit the Maori as an indigenous population, or treat them as a less successful olonial power. The development of the Maori as a warrior culture seems to have come about from a combination of climate shifts, extinction of local food sources, and a lot of geological activity, which forced a lot of migration within the country. The migration of the Moriori is directly linked to the same time period.


Actually, that brings up another interesting thing about the world of Wu - it appears to be exceptionally geologically stable, though not climateologically so. The only new mountains appear to have been raised artificially, by an angry Caladan Brood.
I wonder if Burn sleeping has literally quietened the earth.
Jordanes
45. Egwene
I have a love/hate relationship with the Malazans. I can't wait to read the Malazan bits and I love the Malazan characters, but... even as I am thrilled that the saboteurs have saved the day again, I am appalled by the cost of lives - enemy or not.

What makes the Malazan series so special to my mind is that it shows how senseless all human conflict ultimately is. It shows how there are reasons and justifications on all sides. That there are people whom you'd like to be friends with on both sides. That ulimately, war and conquest are fought on the backs of people who have no say in it - children, women, old folks, people who are naive, those who have noone to stand on their side...

It also shows that even in war, humans are at their best when they work together and look out for each other. If only we could do away with needing an enemy to focus that team spirit....

...the White Faced Barghast... more than symbols of tribes I th0ught. I saw their story as a mirror in which the human race as a whole could see itself.

The best rule for life I have ever come across: Ones own freedom ends where another person's freedom begins. If only we could all manage to stay within the confines of our own natural bubble of freedom.

By the way, fantastic debate everyone. Thanks BDG for kicking up the dust. Thanks SE for writing something that gets this sort of discussion going in the first place and thanks for taking part in it :-)
Jordanes
46. KML
The depiction of the Wickans, while undoubtedly that of a more 'primitive' (for a given value of progress and civilization) culture is rather favourable, I thought. Admittedly, they are a 'conquered' people, yet observe their treatment at the hands of the Empire, once it became clear Seven Cities would be unable to offer their usual shipments of grain.
Jordanes
47. Eric Bianchetti
hello,

I hope Steven will read my comments, and if he does so, he beg him to be forgetfull for my broken english. My only excuse bein I am french (thought I did read MBOF in english!).

One of things I did really enjoy in those books was the depiction of the various cultures existing in Wu (Deadhouse gates is , to me, the best at that), amongst those I noted the opposition btw Malaz Empire and Lether Empire.

Saddly, when reading his comments here, I do understand (but I am certainly wrong, am I not?) Steven to reduce the definition of Empire in Earth to one similar to Lether. Let say simply (very simply), central power diluated, corruption at all levels, forced assimilation with the lost of identity, slavery as in the Dark Ages (early barbarian invasions).

That is something understable with the servum pecus, but a bit frustating when it is a noted and recognised scholar (Steven is an archeologist and an anthropologist), who quite recently digged in some remote chinese desert (if I am not mistaken in 2005 or 2006?). How can you have forget the early chinese saying : In the past we were told of the Emperor and we were fat and rich; Today we see the Princes and we are poor and starving!

According to Maste Kong (Confucius), it simply mean in the past the Chinese Empire did not practice coecition, forced assimilation, and impoverisation (not sure it make sense in english) of hte population. All of that came when the imperial system collapsed at the time of the waring kingdoms.

More, the Kingdom who won at then (Qin) and re established the Empire was considered as semi-barbaric by the central kingdoms (such as Lu, Confucius' own). So did the semi barbarian Qin were assimilate forcefully into a system; or did they conceptualized it willingly, and while they were making themslef fitting into it, they also modified it to have their own partidularities fitting better to the new habbits?

Other examples exist, one is quite recent (at least for an european), it is the Ottoman Empire. Technically, they always defined themself as the heir of the roman empire (the oriental one), and not as the mere victor of a outsider empire. Technically also, from 496 AC up to the fall of Constantinople, the French Kingdom was a part of that Empire (with the French being a titular consul, at that since Clovis). I would agree gladdly those were technicalities, mean without any reality at all; but they were similar to the Title of Titular King of Jerusalem, carrying important meanings.

All of that to remenber Steven (and a lot of others) Empire throught times were NOT all like the british empire at its peak. Some empires were indeed a blessing for the local population, some empires were confronted often with huge parts of the population who wanted integration, not independance. A well know exemple being the Social war in 90 BC. Another being MAyotte, who were previously independant, and choose in March 2011 to became french! Those are 2 exemple of people giving freely and willingly a part of their particularism to became member of something bigger, because it shall protect them, provide ressources, laws, equal wealth opportunity.

Last point, Steven wasspeaking about slavery, but across history slavery covered different notion. Slaves in the roman Empire, or in Thailand under His Majesty Rama the Fifth (I live in Thailand, so the reason for the capital cases) slavery was not comparable with slavery in a north america plantation in the early 80'. Slaves could raise hight, Prime minister, Top ranked general (Narses could be a good exemple, if it was not an eunuch but a slave).

So to me it is quite surprising to see the man who described a malazian empire who were existing because of the people into it, because whatthose people were gaining by being into it (familly of soldier dead being paid yearly a stipend, social promo
tion, uniform law ...) , to see that man explaining empire = slavery , empire = assimilation.
Jordanes
48. BDG
@ 47 I think (?, correct me if I'm wrong here) that you're confusing my views on empire with SE's. He has a much varied view of it than anything I said. To be fair to myself (haha) I'm mostly familiar with European Colonial Empires because they are a) what I'm currently focusing my studies on: inequailty in the modern world and b) they set-up (along with the American Empire) the economic imperialism we see today. They were all pretty much shit (including the French, sorry). I should've stop acting so bull headed and acknowledged the existence of 'helpful' empires like the early Persian one. But yeah I think your beef is with me rather than SE.
Jordanes
49. Eric Bianchetti
@BDG, in fact I have no beef , lol. But I am french and I always choose odd wording.

As a matter of fact I was refering to his first response (post 40 I believe), more specificaly the first 4 paragraphs. I did understood them (but I might have reach my limit of understanding of english) that he ,indeed, endorsed those narrow definitions (while stating he prefered the long view).

To read you now would mean I was sorely mistaken, and my attempt to correct him failed :( . Btw us it is not surprising, as he is a scholar, while I am only a computer man.

Still , after re reading his responses, I do believe he (more or less) endorsed avery narrow definition of both wording (assimilation and empire), similar to the definition of empire given by Herbert in 'The Children of Dune" : The Roman corrupted the very notion of Empire. While it is true for the last centuries of the Eastern Roman Empire (and the last 50 years of the western), it was untrue for a long time.

Anyway, if I was (and still am) mistaken, I present my apologies to Steven and to you on the same time

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