So yesterday I rushed home to intercept the UPS guy so I could get my copy of the latest Wheel of Time novel by Robert Jordan. I’m not altogether sure why I did this -- even going so far as to run when I saw the UPS van parked in front of my building. The book now sits on my pile of books to be read, and I’m not quite certain where it lies in the priority chain. I’m still creeping my way through Michael Chabon’s Summerland -- do I really want the next book I take on to be another unmotivated read?
When I first ordered the book from Amazon, I was emailed a “free” sample chapter to read. Excited, I printed it out at work and took it to lunch. After only a few pages of Matrim Cauthon’s rambling on about nothing, I found my mind wandering. I started concentrating on my food and ignoring the excerpt. Eventually I forgot all about it, only later remembering it and wondering why I ordered the book in the first place. Habit? Hope for something better than what’s come recently? Maybe, I thought, this chapter was chosen so readers won’t be spoiled. Maybe the actual book itself will be more interesting?
I first discovered the Wheel of Time about ten years ago. The early books were quite refreshing as far as fantasy goes -- complex, well written for what they are (in that exciting, “pulp” kind of way), and above and beyond superior to most of the crap churned out in the genre. Ultimately Robert Jordan rips off Tolkien and Frank Herbert, but unlike his contemporaries in the early 1990’s, he doesn’t do a bad job of “borrowing” some ideas and making them seem new. Early on, Jordan used copious helpings of foreshadowing and prophecy to keep readers hooked for the next book. The action was enjoyable, the cliffhangers stressful, the world he created complex with intriguing politics, religion, cultures, etc. I’m not saying that the early books in the series were literary masterpieces, but they were a good way to spend an evening.
The series peaked with The Shadow Rising and has been in decline ever since. By A Crown of Swords, the pacing slowed to a snail’s pace. Hundreds of pages would go by without a single thing happening. Character mannerisms that once seemed fresh and interesting turned into cliché (how many times can Nynaeve tug her braid, or Perrin try to keep his wife out of harm’s way). I’ve only read most of the books once, but I remember details from the WoT books I read in 1997 a lot clearer than some of the details in the last few volumes in the series. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what happened in Path of Daggers, and all I remember from Winter’s Heart is the end of the book, which was the first time in years that something actually happened.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Robert Jordan is pumping out an 800-page volume in the series once every two years for the sole purpose of padding his bank account. Pages and pages are filled with the happenings of incidental characters that are all but indistinguishable from each other. Attention is given to dinner, bathing, dressing and the finest fashion details without anything actually occurring plot wise. Do I really care what Rand al’Thor had for breakfast this morning? Or the color of the lace around Mat’s collar? Not really. It won’t be long before Jordan starts sending his characters to the privy to describe that other much-ignored (in literature) bodily function. That might gain him a few more pages.
It’s my belief now that the Wheel of Time will never end. But like Star Trek, it will continue to be published in the hopes of milking a few more cents out of it. Even with competitors like George R.R. Martin’s far superior (at least at the moment -- it’s only on its third book right now, with book four forthcoming) A Song of Ice and Fire, the Wheel of Time continues to be immensely popular. But I can’t help thinking that other people out there must be sick of it -- they too must see that it’s practically dead, rotted away and bloated.
Years ago, I thought that the key to a good genre series was length and complexity. I couldn’t imagine a universe as big and interesting as Jordan’s outliving its welcome. But like with other serialized work -- ranging from endless comic book series to television -- if there’s no hint of forthcoming closure, there’s really no reason to keep on reading. Filled with pointless details and zero action, the Wheel of Time has finally worn me down. I might give The Crossroads of Twilight a chance, but only after I’ve finished the other books in my stack, not to mention all the other books I want to read, but haven’t yet acquired. By then, maybe, the final volume of the series will be out. Not that I'll still care by that point.