Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bored of Shannara

I didn't need to invoke the 100-page Rule on Terry Brooks' Armageddon's Children. I knew by Page 50 that I wasn't going to make it.
Even though it was a rip-off of Lord of the Rings, I enjoyed Brooks' Sword of Shannara in the '70s. The sequel, The Elfstones of Shannara, was even better because it was an original story. I somehow got distracted and never finished the third book, Wishsong of Shannara, but I didn't blame it on the book. In fact, I remember being especially intrigued by one of the characters.
I missed the whole Heritage of Shannara series because I always wanted to finish Wishsong first and felt that it might be a good idea to revisit Sword and Elfstones before doing that, only now I was talking about a commitment and there was just too much else I wanted to read.
When First King of Shannara came out, the prequel to Sword, I read it because I didn't have to remember anything that came before it. I liked it and especially enjoyed tying together the threads between it and Sword.
Then Brooks came out with this new series, The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, and I figured that it was finally time to plow through the whole series once and for all. Only, me being me, I decided to start from the chronological beginning and read First King again, then Sword, etc. And my problem was that I kept getting bogged down in the first few chapters of First King.
I hadn't noticed it before, but Brooks fills page after page with nothing but exposition about what's been happening in the world to get you to the point where First King begins. It's tedious reading and I kept giving up. When I heard that he was going to write a prequel series that comes before even First King, I decided that that would be my chance to dig into the series again. After all, this new prequel series promised to bridge the gap between our real world and the fantastic future described in the Shannara books. It would be a great jump-on point and I could let the momentum from enjoying that series push me through the boring parts of First King and on into the more exciting parts of the series.
The problem is that Armageddon's Children, the first book of the prequel series, doesn't begin in any kind of recognizable world at all. Yeah, the city names are familiar, but technology has already crossed over into sci-fi territory, demons and other creatures have already invaded the world, a mysterious "Lady" has already recruited a scattered group of "Knights" to protect the Earth, and a supernatural Messiah has already been born. And how do we know all this? Page after exposition-filled page.
It's the oldest rule in the Writer's Manual: Show, Don't Tell. I'm interested in the demons and the lady and the Messiah and all of that, but I want to see them introduced into the narrative as it happens, not just matter-of-factly be told about it long afterwards. Brooks started his story in the wrong place and it makes me feel like I'm still not getting the whole picture; like there's yet another prequel that I'm going to eventually need to read. And I'm not up for that.

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