The Unremembered

Posted on 15 April 2011

Chapter Fifteen: “From the Rubble”

Small admin note: I’ll be toastmastering JordanCon this weekend, and I’ll also be running the Tor.com Wheel of Time community on twitter and facebook during it, as the normal wonderful lady that does is the convention chair and will be even more busy than me. Anyway.

So, I promised a review of Peter Orullian’s The Unremembered today. I’m a filthy liar who lies. I wish I could say this was because I have been busier than nothing else with JordanCon prep on top of the Tijervyn stuff, but that’d be only half the true. The part is that I read to page 42 and had to put it down, so I am not going to review it. I will still talk about it, though.

See, there is a vital difference to me here. I reviewed Rothfuss. I said what he did well and what he didn’t do so well based on the whole of story. I cannot do that with Orullian. I have no clue how his plot fares. I have no clue how his characters grow. I have 42 pages.

So, let me talk about those 42 pages. Orullian’s writing style is extremely descriptive. I mean, he makes Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson look like they are writing “See John Run” books. This is not a good thing, in my opinion. Jordan and Sanderson (and Rothfuss, really) are very descriptive writers, but they use “common language” and a pacing to their description that often hides it amongst beautiful dialog and action. Orullian has paragraphs that are (rough estimate) 80% description. End on end on end.

Add to this that he is using a language that is going to be honestly prohibitive to many readers because you need a vocabulary beyond reckoning. I mean, he was pulling words out I have a hard time defining on the head, even if I have a vague sense of their use. I’d imagine a less loquacious reader would have a hard time when they don’t recognize half of the words, despite their being English.

I must give a special consideration to a word used in the prolog that almost made me close the book at five pages. That word is susurration. I despise this word with the white-hot passion of a thousand burning suns because it is basically a word that exists solely (in my opinion) to show off a person’s vocabulary. “a soft muttering” is not that hard to say, and flows across the eyes so much easier. Susurration is only one of many “purple words” Orullian was fond of using.

Now, some people like that. I have read some reviews that actually laud his word choice, so if you enjoy a person who uses the English tongue like a gourmand, be my guest. Personally, I hate gourmet food. Give me wonderfully flavorful food that is made with interesting combinations of common ingredients. End that analogy.

If it was just the fancy word choice, I could have powered through it for the sake of review. But it was compounded by what I felt was bad word choice at times. In the prologue, he uses about every single synonym for “temple” that he can so that he doesn’t have to say the word temple all that often. In doing so, he used some very specific and nearly antonymic words. A tabernacle is a very specific type of temple, and not to be confused with any other. I’m just saying. And no, I’m not Jewish, but if you are going to use a specific word, I’m going to hold you to the meaning.

Number three on my list of why I stopped at that most magically numbered of pages? The cardinal rule of narrative writing is show, don’t tell. Thus, the info dump that is the first two chapters (those that I read) made my eyes bleed. The boy, Tahn, is out in the woods and his mind wonders in thought. Okay, one or two hints at what might be important, I can handle that. Finding out about his special, magic words, the monsters in the Borne, his sister’s rape and pregnancy, his lack of a memory prior to ten, his special hammer-shaped scar/birthmark on his hand—that it goes out of the way to tell you nobody comments on—and the presence and death of his father a couple years ago, all in the span of three, maybe four pages? No. Especially when all of that is broken with maybe two short paragraphs of action. It gets worse when they meet the Gandalf character, who appears out of nowhere, is all crazy intimidating, then info-dumps the entire world history-for-idiots (complete with “Age Of”s and “League Of”s that change their names and about seven made up words) for an entire chapter, namely chapter two? Double No.

And the final nail in the 42nd page coffin: characterization. This includes dialog. The characters are gullible and simple minded. Way too gullible and simple minded. Adults and near-adults alike just take anything that is said for fact. They just reveal secrets and share information without pause. Tahn runs into town, starts telling whoever will listen there is a monster in the woods that is straight from fairytales, and everyone believes him like it happens every day. Never mind that it goes out of the way to say it never does. The interaction between the characters (that I saw) was stiff and painful, and reminded me nothing less than an attempt to write like David Eddings that fell short.

So… that is my discussion on The Unremembered. I feel like a heel for doing that. Why? For a couple reasons. One: everyone else seems to be loving this book. Read the other reviews, see what they say, and look at the book yourself. I am notoriously picky about what I read, which is why I don’t try and professionally review books, because Sturgeon’s Law would destroy me. The second reason is because Peter Orullian himself is an awesome guy. I love his interviews, and what little I’ve interacted with him tells me that he is a cool, down to earth guy. Neither of these things correlate at all with raw writing ability, but it still annoys me that I’m kind of panning his book without having even read the entire thing. So, Peter, if you read this, I’m sorry. It’s not you. It’s me. I couldn’t read Kevin J Anderson or Steven Erikson either.


1 comment to The Unremembered

  • taswyn says:

    “So, Peter, if you read this, I’m sorry. It’s not you. It’s me. I couldn’t read Kevin J Anderson or Steven Erikson either.”

    I don’t think you’re being fair on yourself. Many of the qualities you described are fairly quantitative, especially in the way you presented them. The types of infodumps you talked of *can* be done in extreme, fairly solitary circumstances, if handled particularly, but those don’t seem to come close. And that’s me stretching my line of “there is no rule in writing which can’t be broken so long as it is broken well.” Probably past the breaking point, really. Massive infodumps are almost uniformly terrible, whether narrated, introspective, or shoveled into dialog–frequently between characters who have no reason to be discussing such things.

    I realize it’s never fun to be less than superfluous about someone else’s work, but simply put, that sounds like poor writing. Saying so says nothing of Peter Orullian as a person. Plenty of people simply aren’t that great at presenting a well told story, many times even when they have a *wonderful* and lovely concept behind it. Even more people don’t encounter an editor who can help shape them to what might be considered their true potential (I often think editors are the unsung heroes of the literary world).

    Now, with that said, I think susurration is a lovely, evocative word. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it explicitly defined as such, but I’ve always found it to be something of an ideophone, if not quite onomatopoeic. But you are right to a degree, it /is/ a rich word. Personally I like when someone is capable of using rich words, and using them well.

    For me, the better analogy would be one of courses in a meal, rather than simply “gourmet.” There has to be a balance to a meal, or even the most wonderful food goes from being delicious to nauseating. Palate cleansing courses like salad are there for a reason (beyond the simply nutritious). When serving a multi course meal, you must balance the flavours and richness of each course in the quantities you present, or else risk ruining the experience of the meal as a whole.

    I feel like most writing is served well by the same sense of balance and restraint. And there’s nothing more egregious to me than thesaurus-aholics who trot out multi-syllabic words simply to sound smart(er). Most longer words have very exact connotations and fairly close to technical definitions. This last especially stems from their relative lack of use colloquially. Which alone should be a warning sign =P What that ultimately means though, for one using them, is that you can’t get away with being loose with such a word (*as she smirks*). There isn’t a case for “but that’s how ~people~ use it all the time!” Because ~people~ don’t, and the lack of common usage creates a situation where use outside the definition is, well, more wrong than in other circumstances.

    So please, authors and everyone else who works in words, unless you have something very particular you are trying to refer to, or some other actual directed reason, put down the thesaurus. If the word didn’t come to mind (even just in the sense of “I know I’ve heard a better way to say this”) then don’t bother, because you’re probably doing both yourself and your readers a disservice. If you need to expand your vocabulary, go find someone lauded for actually using an expansive vocabulary correctly… but truly, it’s not so important, and in many cases just creates a barrier between you and much of your potential audience.

    I do realize that amongst male authors especially sometimes it’s less about trying to write well and more some sort of verbally masturbatory dominance thing in using dense language, but just eww. In every sense. Not that I’m accusing Peter of that in any way, since I haven’t read his work.

    At the same time, I realize that thesaurus diving is an easy solution to search out when needing to curtail repetitive word usage. So I am sympathetic, to a degree. Just, please, unless the word is familiar to you, don’t assume that it actually is a proper replacement in every instance simply from a quick glance in a thesaurus. A thesaurus is a wonderful rough tool, but don’t use it by itself.

    Less fever induced blathering, more flu pills time =P And, supposing someone like Peter were to read this, it’s not as if *I* have any published novels, so there ^,~

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