R Scott Bakker - The Darkness that Comes Before

Brian G Turner

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Any R Scott Bakker fans here?

I've just started reading The Darkness that comes before and am finding it difficult to get through.

The opening sentence I find completely confusing and nonsensical:

"One cannot raise walls against what has been forgotten"

Say what? If it's been forgotten, why would you want to raise walls, let alone find yourself in the challenge of not being able to raise them? The first half of the sentence is about being active, but the second half, a passive nothing. Semantically it makes no sense?

Okay, fair enough, let that one go.

And then it starts.

I don't mean to sound like I'm trying to be mean or idiotic, but it reads like he's throwing random verbs and adjectives in front of every second noun.

Branches are "thin muscular branchings"; mud is "uncovered earth"; and the words - aw, jeez, he's put inflections, accents, and other non-English vowel markings on nearly every named thing.

I mean, seriously, it reads as though the character or the author, or both, are completely stoned.

Is this intentional? Am I missing a trick that will soon be revealed?

It's just that this is a thick book, and I don't fancy plodding through nearly 700 pages of pretentious stoner narrative.

(I may regret ever posting this post!)
 

chopper

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it's not stoner, but it can get rather heavy and - *grimalert* - grim. there's a slight problem in that absolutely everything is given the same weight, which makes important events less easy to pick out. there's some fairly icky sex, and the characters are nearly all neurotic in an unloveable way. i certainly didn't *enjoy* reading it, but it's definitely worth it to study aspects of his world and the depth he goes into.
 

Boneman

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Actually, it gets worse:eek:, especially when the school of magic really gets involved. There is a really great story there, but by the time you've got to the end of book three, it seems to fizzle down to nothing, and I was left scratching my head, wondering why. Have you met Kellhus yet? Some lines still stick in my mind, and I found them easily towards the very end of the book:

Kellhus had spent long hours in the probablility trance, assessing extrapolating and reassessing this extraordinary twist of circumstance. But the Holy War had proved incalculable. Nothing he'd thus far encountered could compare with the sheer number of variables it presented.

Which is quite neat prose, but a line or two later he says: That would change in a matter of moments, gives us a lecture on the Holy War, but doesn't tell us about any change.... I nearly put the book daown at that point, and it's frustrating how many times he does that. Have you met Serwë yet? Bakker's treatment of women in his world will probably not sit well with you, either.
 

thaddeus6th

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I quite dislike being negative about books, but I've got to say I gave this a try a few years ago and my views tally with those posted already. I didn't get more than, roughly, a quarter of the way into it.
 

Nerds_feather

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I think there are some interesting ideas in the first book, but they are weighed down by excessive, unnecessary and distracting grimdark, the aforementioned poor treatment of women characters (where there actually are any) and a predilection for psychobabble.
 

Brian G Turner

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Hm, am losing patience with this one. Am at page 28 now, no emotional involvement with any of the characters.

Feels like Bakker is trying to keep Kellhus hidden, but rather than make him feel enigmatic, makes it seem like there must be so little to the character to not want to reveal much yet. And shows too much of the author at work.

The wording I find horribly pretentious. Here's Kellhus going up a slope in a pine forest:

The slope was treacherous. Kellhus hauled himself up by grasping limbs and securing his step in the deadfalls beneath the snow. The conifers begrudged any clear path across the ground. Radial scaffolds of branches tore at him. A gloom unlike the pale of winter thatched his surroundings.
Skimming over the words, it all seems wonderfully atmospheric and evocative. But semantically rewritten:

there was a slope. Kellhus climbed up using his arms to connect with the arms of trees and by standing on the wood that was under the trees. The trees were in the way. Scaffolding tears. It wasn't like something else, the sky was a roof for the world.
You couldn't make the text so thick and heavy if you tried. I think the last sentence says it all, though: here's is a silly contradiction, following by stating the simply as complex as possible.

I do appreciate the text, I think there's a poetic ring to it. But it is a hollow ring that ultimately comes across as overly-done, inappropriate, waves a big "look at me!" flag at itself, and wants to bog the reader down with a cascade of verbs and adjectives that play about making nonsense statements, then state the obvious, without actually really doing anything other than pad the text.

And characters? Well, so far Kullhus has wandered around feeling a bit trippy, fell in the snow, learned a completely new language by listening to a drunk woodsman, and wants to get somewhere else. Also that's he's manipulative, thinks himself intelligent. Kind of like a Jorg on vallium. Written by an Erikson on LSD. It's all very ponderous, and ultimately pointless.


Come on, folks! I'm not particularly intelligent and have a terrible cynical streak that can blind me to wonderful things! Someone persuade me that this book was not only worth buying, but definitely worth reading! Please! If I'm being a dick, call me out on it! Maybe I'm just being horribly impatient? I'm happy to be corrected!
 

ratsy

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Brian, I read the first 100 pages a few years ago. I could not get into it at all. And to be honest I now have no idea what it was about. I keep telling myself that I will give it another chance some year but...if I put it down once...
 

Grunkins

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This puts me off from reading him. I do have these three books in my TBR, and have heard lots of good reports about the series, but I had a feeling about them, and it seems that feeling is confirmed.
 

Hypnos164

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He is one of those authors who gets 1 star or 5 star reviews with little in between; if you don't like it so far you probably never will, what you see is what you get for 3 books.

Personally I liked it a lot, largely for its connection with the new theories of mind emerging from neuro-psychology. Kelhus is RSB's vision of what an artificial intelligence without human cognitive limitation might be like up close and personal. Even if it is working for the greater good the individual costs are not likely to be nice.
 

Brian G Turner

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This puts me off from reading him. I do have these three books in my TBR, and have heard lots of good reports about the series, but I had a feeling about them, and it seems that feeling is confirmed.
Oh, please do make your own mind up, though.

My g/f was making very similar complaints about Scott Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora this week, after I coerced her into reading it. Difference is, I can appreciate - with hindsight - what Lynch was trying to do with his intro structuring, and how it reflected with the rest of the story, and why it was used as was.

I don't have that hindsight yet with RSB, hence asking for it.

He is one of those authors who gets 1 star or 5 star reviews with little in between; if you don't like it so far you probably never will, what you see is what you get for 3 books.

Personally I liked it a lot, largely for its connection with the new theories of mind emerging from neuro-psychology. Kelhus is RSB's vision of what an artificial intelligence without human cognitive limitation might be like up close and personal. Even if it is working for the greater good the individual costs are not likely to be nice.
Many thanks for that. :)

Heh, seems oddly appropriate that Erikson has been publicly promoting RSB - Erikson himself has proven quite a divisive author with his Malazan series - I know a lot of people here at chrons had problems with the abrupt change of POV structure about a third way in.
 

Nerds_feather

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Heh, seems oddly appropriate that Erikson has been publicly promoting RSB - Erikson himself has proven quite a divisive author with his Malazan series.
They're also both Canadian, and Canadians sometimes feel as if they're "in it together" in a way Americans and English, at least, typically do not. (Not sure if that applies to Scottish or Welsh writers). So perhaps there's an element of "sticking up for one of our own" in the face of all the criticism of RSB...
 

thaddeus6th

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Hypnos, it's interesting to hear why others liked the book.

Brian, I was unaware of that. I have also read Gardens of the Moon, and whilst it didn't really take me (well-written but far too much vagueness) I could more easily appreciate why others might like it more.
 

Jonathan C

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Gardens of the Moon is a bit different from the rest of theMalazan series, though. I liked it, but Deadhouse Gates (book 2) is definitely an easier read.

I think it was written some time before the author decided to make a go of it as a series, and there are noticeable stylistic differences (and some characters are written slightly differently) between book 1 and all the other books.
 

kromanjon

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Love Bakkers work but yes the first book isn't very easy getting through and the following books make no sense unless you've read the previous books.

I own all Bakkers published books except one and there's a trick to reading his work but I don't realy know what it is. In a sense I've started thinking of him as my author since I know of noone else who likes to read his work.

I think that his writing can't realy be seen as the standard characters and plot thing. It's more about the philosophy, the dark tragedies, the workings of the human mind... I don't even know what I'm trying to say right now. All I know is that I'm eagerly waiting for the sequal to white luck warrior.

For the record though I still feel his best book is The Warrior Prophet, second book in the prince of nothing trilogy.
 

Bugg

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I think reverse psychology works with me. I remember reading all the negativity (not here, elsewhere) towards Erikson's Gardens of the Moon before I took the plunge, and I ended up loving it from the very first page.

I can't say that the same happened with Bakker, but something happened. I think it was Kellhus fleeing at the end of the prologue that first got its hooks in. Anyway, I went on to read The Darkness That Comes Before in four days (and I'm a s-l-o-w reader) last week, and am now 350 pages into The Warrior-Prophet, having started it two days ago. I'm finding the latter a much easier read, which is down to the groundwork done in TDTCB, in my opinion, and I am enjoying it muchly. I like his writing style - it is reminiscent of Erikson, but not as wildly inventive and lacking his sense of humour. Bakker seems relentlessly serious but, so far, I've never been less than interested, and occasionally thrilled (I was reading a big sorcery battle on the tube this morning and nearly missed my stop as a result).

I do, however, completely agree with the comments about how he treats the women in the story (all two of them). These parts have been very difficult to read, and are a major negative to go with the positives I've found so far.
 

svalbard

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I would rate Bakker just behind Erikson and Martin as one the most original writers in modern fantasy. That is not to say that I had problems with his writing which at times nearly veered off into Terry Goodkind territory with his treatment of women. His battle descriptions are excellent, his magic system intriguing and I found the history of the world interesting. Is it worth sticking with? I would yes, but then you might come hunting me down with a rightous wrath.
 

Hypnos164

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I was reading a big sorcery battle on the tube this morning and nearly missed my stop as a result).
I'm guessing that this is the battle after a character escapes fom captivity and finally, after 1.5 books, shows what he can do ... and kicks ass :)
 

Mark_Lawrence

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My review from goodreads poo-poos the 1* or 5* myth.

Found this in the parents' room at the hospital.

So I've seen a lot of Bakker-talk online and you'd think to read it that the man was either the devil incarnate or a seven-fold genius come to show the true way. A phrase I'm used to hearing is 'marmite book', another is 'you'll either love it or hate it - there's no in between'. All as much bollocks here of course as when applied to my own work. A simple click of the ratings button shows a vast number of in betweens. In fact most people are in between the 5* and the 1* on this book (as on mine). Most people give it 4*, 1* is the least popular rating.

There are plenty of good things to say about the book.

I've heard it comprises 'dense philosophy'. To my mind that would make an awful work of fiction. I've read philosophy text-books, and the fiction of Satre, De Beauvoir, and others. This is nothing like that. This is a fantasy story with a complex plot and plenty of action. Yes there's a little more introspection than typical for the genre. But philosophy? Very little. Bakker wisely opts for aphorisms and a measure of psychology to scatter around and create the ambiance.

The prose is powerful (can be long winded in places), there an abundance of cleverness and insight on offer, the much talked of darkness of the book didn't strike me as particularly dark at all.

At the end of the book the threads converge and a pretty decent 'climax' is delivered, ending without a cliff hanger and with a (for me) mild impetus to continue.

The intricacy of the many part plot ... well, I admired it but I can't say it really did it for me. I guess it's a ton of material for the epic side of epic fantasy to play with over the course of the next however many books. I perhaps wanted more focus and more character-time.

There's great imagination here and Khellus' methods are a fresh and entertaining idea. All that really pushed this a touch below 4* for me was the fact that the whole book lacked the emotional content I enjoy. I don't need nice characters. I don't need to cheer their every move. And Bakker's character list certainly includes interesting characters - which is great. But I never really felt emotionally involved and that blunted my enjoyment.

The Mandate Schoolman was the most involving character for me, then Esmenet.

In short then, a book with depth, complexity, written with skill, and well worth a look. Personally I wasn't as swept up and held by it as I had hoped to be, but your mileage may well vary!
 

Bugg

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I'm guessing that this is the battle after a character escapes fom captivity and finally, after 1.5 books, shows what he can do ... and kicks ass :)
:)

Actually, ***spoiler***
it was the bit where Achamian was captured in the first place, the fight in the library, but yeah, the bit you mention was even better :cool:
***spoiler***

I'm about 50 pages from the end of the third book, The Thousandfold Thought, now. I don't think it's been quite as good as The Warrior-Prophet, which I found an astonishingly good read, but I am still enjoying it a lot :)
 
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