Monday, March 30, 2009

The Gathering Storm (in a glass of water?)

Thoughts and musings about the official announcement released by Tor Books.

Yesterday was a day to mark on the calendar for all Wheel of Time Fans.

We have a title for the first part of the series's finale: The Gathering Storm. We have a definitive release date: November 3, 2009. We have the great lines of the plan for the the publication of the remaining volumes of what Robert Jordan originally thought would be the single last book of the series.

Great news or bad news? It's all a matter of perspective.

I am a passionate person who feels very strongly for what grabs my interest, for what I decide to devote precious time and energy. I sympathize with all my fellow dedicated fans who today feel betrayed, worried, disappointed or very sad about the decisions the 'Wheel of Time Team' have just announced. This has happened to me in the past over other hobbies and passions of mine, and it really sucks - but the more negative I was about it, the worse it seemed to suck.

For all my understanding of these feelings, I can't join in the concert of bitter disappointment and criticism, because for me today is a great day, and the announcements made by Tor, Harriet McDougall and Brandon Sanderson are cause for much rejoicing and even a bit of relief. A few qualms and worries, but no many.

I want to salute first Brandon Sanderson for his honesty and openness – since you've taken on this project, Brandon, I have come to respect you and to enjoy your Blog and your attitude toward us fans more and more. You're truly a great guy, and truly one of us – your own passion and dedication to the series permeate all your communications with the fans. Kudos for that.

The very long blog post explaining the reasons for the split was frank and courageous, heart warming and often funny. I must speak my mind on this, though: Brandon, often you are a bit too honest and open, and today it landed you in the pickle many of us predicted on the first days you took over this project and began to communicate directly with the WOT fans, notably among us at Wotmania. But with your comprehensive Blog post you've set matters straight – again - about progress on the book and the process behind the hard decisions, and gotten yourself out of that pickle with both courage and elegance. If you can be blamed for anything, it's certainly not for misjudging the scope of the project in the early phase, for adapting your plans as it evolved, or for feeling a bit overwhelmed and tired. No, the only criticism I'd put at your feet today is that in your generosity and desire for transparency, you've created too many hopes and unreasonable expectations among part of the fanbase that Tor and Harriet now had to crush, at least among those who have less aptitude to read between the lines a bit, nor have heeded all your warnings that nothing was set in stone or would be for a long time, and that anyway you were not the one who would make the final decisions on publishing, and you could only give your opinions. Perhaps taking a page from the ever discreet Harriet's book would have simplified your life, though personally if you cope well with all this controversy and pressure, I say by all means do go on being yourself – your candor would be greatly missed in the years to come before this project is over.

I want also to salute Harriet McDougall. The decisions you've announced today were no doubt difficult ones to make, and you must have known they wouldn't be very popular and at best highly controversial, that your late husband had created too many expectations with his promise to finish in a single book, with his jokes about forcing his publisher to invent new methods to bind books if necessary – which as usual were taken dead seriously at face value by too many fans who should have understood Jordan's humour better after all these years of reading his work. But again, you're showing how much you have your priorities straight in this project, and again you've taken the necessary hard decisions to achieve what is best for the book, to make justice to Jim's memory and legacy. As always, it's very reassuring for a fan like me to see the helm of the Wheel of Time vessel in your capable and loving hands. You'll get us all to port, in your time.

A thank you as well to Tom Doherty and Tor Books. All around you're accused today by the more cynical who can't seem to see motivations behind those with dollar signs, of being this evil capitalist publisher, obsessed with making the most financial gain out of the Wheel of Time, with your hawkish eyes targeting the wallets of Wheel of Time fans worldwide.

You're in this for profit, of course, but I rather choose to see in all of this primarly your steadfast support of Harriet and Brandon, your obvious love for Robert Jordan's work you've been involved with and believed in since its genesis, and your support of the creators when they decided to stay true to Jordan's vision, by taking as much pages as they feel the story needs to be told in full. Some would have pressured the writing team to shorten things up to be able to publish the story in one book, and some would have pressured them to stick to the announced deadline. Tor rather chose to bite the bullet on this one, to go with the options that won't be popular among the readers and even leave a bitter taste among some of your customers. This isn't greed I see in your decisions concerning the publishing of the last Wheel of Time books, this is vision, and respect for the story and its creators, skills at finding the best possible compromise solution for the book, and for your company. And yes, you'll make money out of all this.. but then, I was under the impression publishing books for a profit was the raison d'ĂȘtre of Tor Books, so why blame you? Thank you Mr. Doherty. Robert Jordan was right to put his trust in you.

And I genuinely have come to believe that this 'WOT team' have just taken the best possible decisions for the series, one for which we'll thank them when all is said and done. Jordan's promises can be dismissed for what they were : well meaning wishes and intentions and a genuine desire to reach the end of the great journey – an end he no doubt was deeply eager to have us read at last. Harriet believes he would never have managed it, and it's all too easy to trust her opinion on this. All too easy. If anyone knows how much his tales expanded in the telling, it's her. She heard them over the table, she read them at her work desk. He announced this a bit too early, with just an outline to judge the length of the coming book. Jim Rigney excelled in many things, but with all due respect to his beloved memory, if anyone ever sucked at evaluating how long it takes to tell a story, it's Robert Jordan. For years, it was always '2-3 more books". It had become a running gag in the fan base, a bitter one for some, a funny on to others like me who really didn't care how long it would take to reach the end. It's hardly surprising he had misjudged the length of the 'last book' too, and if alas he is no longer here to have revised his early judgment along the way, his passing is no good reason to make his statement virtually sacred and untouchable, and to point now the accusing finger at his widow and his friend Tom Doherty for facing reality and finding viable solutions.

I am one of those fans who appreciate all the details and intricacies of Jim's story, one of those whose love for the series increased as the books went on and one of those who much prefer the famously or infamously 'long winded' books 4-11 to the early and faster paced 'trilogy'. Lacking in the details that for me truly makes WOT WOT, is often how I describe Eye of the World, The Great Hunt and The Dragon Reborn. In many ways, for me, the Wheel of Time really kicks off with The Shadow Rising, still one of my favourites.

Knife of Dreams, as good as it was, was also cause for some concerns. Perhaps under some pressure from the fans, perhaps because he was eager to get to the ending, Jim began to cut a few corners here and there, to precipitate resolution that felt like maybe it wasn't fully doing justice to all his 'set up'. If the price for a single volume A Memory of Light was to rush the ending, let too much of the details abandoned behind, unused for lack of space, then my belief is that this was too high a price to pay. I can only salute now Brandon and Harriet's decision to take all the time and pages they need to let the story breath.

The fact the book will be split into three installments may even be seen now as a gift. We were seeing the end of the WOT communities, very soon. We had only one book to look forward to, the book that would resolve everything at once. The end of theories, the end of many beloved topics of debate and discussion. A rush of discussions for a few weeks, tainted by the depressive effect that it's all over, and by the division between those who will be satisfied and those who will hate the finale (just look how the BSG fandom has just recently collapsed over the controversial ending of the series). For many years, the fan base has had it rough. Jim's disease and sad passing was a massive blow. Some sites vanished almost overnight, one of the major ones is about to close down. Harriet's decision to take all the time she needs to finish the book, and to offer them to us in three volumes over the next two years, has the very positive effect (one of Siuan's beloved unintended consequences) of giving us our Wheel of Time back. We have a book to look forward to and be excited about, and it's but a few months away. And then we'll have months of discussions and anticipation ahead of us, with the knowledge that the next chapter isn't that far away.

It is all a matter of perspective. When you have passions that bring you pleasure in life, you must make the efforts to protect and nurture them, and part of achieving that is in looking at things positively whenever it's possible, and to accept letting go of things you can't change. The alternative is too often to let changes and disappointements sour and ruin everything.

Harriet McDougall and Brandon will now have all the necessary time to make these books as good as they can be, and to ensure they do justice to Jim Rigney's legacy – books the fans can enjoy, and books Brandon and Harriet can look back at and be proud of. We will have the entirety of the story as envisioned by Robert Jordan in his notes and outline, not a shortened version to accommodate publishing, or to bow under the pressure of the more impatient part of the fan base. And we have ahead of us a reprieve of 2-3 years for the WOT fandom, with a new Wheel of Time book to enjoy every autumn. I don't know about you, but I salivate in advance. Today, watching over Harriet's shoulder from wherever he is, Jim must sport a content smile, and gave a good chuckle when she uttered her first official RAFO. All is well and his legacy is still in the best and most loving of hands. Brandon, Harriet, Mr. Doherty – best of luck to all of you with the rest of the project, and again, thank you for all the care you put into this for Jim and for us all.

And for the little worries, for instance how what was conceived as an 'Act 1', and knowing how RJ's 'acts 1' were usually structured, will make a satisfying read, are better left for post-reading discussions in November. At least we'll know then what we're truly talking about.



old salt said...

Dom, I have to agree with many of your points. I too, prefer the latter "installments" to the first 3 books, in fact I actually put the series down for about 2-3 years after tDR. I had started reading the series in the early 90's when EoTW first came out in PB. To be truthful, I do have to admit that CoT is a fairly weak book, tho not as weak as tGH.
In any event accusing Harriet and ToR of padding the series in order to make more money is simply absurd and insulting. Both BS and Hariett have been pretty transparent during the whole process, and while I would like to have a complete and final AMoL by November I realize that this isn't feasible. I was hoping for two volumes, primarily because of the synergy of having WoT come out in 13 installments to mirror all of the other "thirteens" in the story. But 14 is OK. I do sincerely hope that they do NOT decide that "we need another volume" I think the fan base would well and truely revolt if WoT goes beyond the now specified 14 volumes. That said I am thoroughly looking forward to November, and I do hope for an initial launch and signing in NYC, just as with KoD, but with a Q&A session this time. I'd even take a day off of work for it.
I thank you for your voice of reason in "these parlous times" and again salute you and Linda for this wonderful site.

Old Salt

Terez said...

I'm in agreement with nearly everything said here. I'm a hard core fan freak, and it's often disappointing when things don't go the way I expect, but I've got a sort of que sera, sera attitude about it. I'm looking forward to the final volume(s), and I'll take it however it comes. :D