Tuesday, July 8, 2008

DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Back before I reached my teenage years, when I started concentrating on punk rock and being cool, I read a lot of fantasy novels. I was particularly fond of the Dragonlance series, based on the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game. Dragonlance was huge in scope, with a new book coming out every few months (eventually passing 190 in number), and story-arcs usually playing out over three or more books. The very first book, the one that started it all, was DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT.

It's been at least fifteen years since I've read anything from Dragonlance, or even thought much about it, but I've recently become somewhat nostalgic for the old days before I turned into a grumpy old loser. I decided to pick up a copy of DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT, in hopes of revisiting a part of my youth. The library didn't have a copy, and I couldn't find one in any of the used book stores in town, so I was compelled to do something I almost never do: I went to the bookstore and bought a copy new.

I read the book over the course of the last week, and reading it has shown me that you can't go home again.

To put it plainly, the book isn't very good. It consists of an overabundant series of events, one after another after another, cobbled together in a way that doesn't give much sense of significance to their order. It's like the authors came up with a bunch of scenarios, and then rolled dice to decide on their chronology. Within a few dozen pages I was bored, and my level of interest wavered between bored and mildly interested for the next 440+ pages.

The writing itself is far from artful, too. Generally the description is plain, and limited. Most of the prose focuses on action, and the action rarely amounts to anything exciting. Here's the first fight, for an example:

"The goblin dove at Flint, hoping to knock him down. Flint swung his ax with deadly accuracy and timing. A goblin head rolled into the dust, the body crashing to the ground."

Ho hum, right? There isn't any spice to the writing, or any compelling imagery. In fact, the actions are described in a fairly vague way: Flint swings his ax and a goblin head rolls. We aren't shown the ax as it makes contact with the goblin's neck. We aren't given details relating to what the ax looks like, how heavy it feels in Flint's hand, what it feels like when it makes contact with the enemy. We aren't even given a description of the goblin, here or before, that gives us any developed idea of what it looks like. It seems to me that the writing is relying on the reader's familiarity with scenes of this type, a familiarity gathered from reading other books and watching movies. The book depends upon the reader's previous knowledge to supply a mental image of the goblin. If we've never heard of a goblin before, we're not going to learn what it is from this book.

And that's the main beef I've got with the writing in general. It's a bare bones, stripped down account of a series of actions. It's like a basic script, and we're expected to use the script to make a full movie in our minds. But if we're just going to imagine things on our own, with only flimsy prompting on the part of the book, why use the book at all? Why not turn to a better book, one that gives us the mind-movie already fully produced?

So I'm done with Dragonlance. I'll leave it to my past. I still haven't given up on fantasy fiction altogether, though. I remember enjoying some of the Conan stories, so maybe I'll see if my current mind still likes them. Or maybe I'll give the HOBBIT a go.

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