Friday, April 06, 2007


Sometimes you see a quote that makes you go "hm." Today, it's The Onion's A/V Club on Patrick Rothfuss's debut novel, The Name of the Wind:

The Name of the Wind is quite simply the best fantasy novel of the past 10 years, although attaching a genre qualification threatens to damn it with faint praise. Say instead that The Name of the Wind is one of the best stories told in any medium in a decade..

Um. Now, I really like Rothfuss's book -- I read it in galleys, and bought it as a Main Selection for the SFBC, and wrote here that I thought it was "it's a major debut fantasy novel, and a joy to read." So it's not like I don't think this book is really really good or anything -- it is, and I want a lot of people to read it. Let me underline that: it's one of the best debut fantasy novels I've read, and one of the better fantasy books of this year.

But "quite simply the best fantasy novel of the past 10 years?" Better than Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell, than The Lies of Locke Lamora, than Anansi Boys, than The Years of Rice and Salt, than Perdido Street Station and The Scar, than The Wizard Knight, than "His Dark Materials," than Declare, than a dozen Terry Pratchett novels and nearly as many by Patricia A. McKillip, than Perfect Circle and Mockingbird, than Vellum, than the "Bartimaeus Trilogy?"


Some praise is just too over-the-top, and it sounds silly. This, I think, is one of those cases. But, still, read The Name of the Wind. It might not be the greatest novel ever written by the hand of man, but it's still awfully damn good. (I'm just hoping this doesn't turn into another one of those Strange Horizons vs. The Lies of Locke Lamora cases.)


Neth said...

I had almost the same reaction when I saw that review. My thoughts are that this is the all-too typical reader who generally reads mainstream fiction and literature, maybe delving into titles touch on SFF, but avoiding anything that would end up shelved in the SFF portion of the store. He takes a chance on this book, finds it to be very good, and praises it. In other words - I got the feeling that this is a person who is essentially clueless about the genre.

Of course, I could be completely wrong, but I was left thinking that after reading the review. The Name of the Wind is great, and it might be the best debut I've read, but I'm not going to call it the best in the decade. Realistically, it wouldn't make the top 10, but it's still a great book.

Andrew Wheeler said...

neth: Note that Rothfuss is a professor of English in the U-Wisconsin system, and that The Onion was originally based in Madison; I have my suspicions that the reviewer was a student of Rothfuss (or otherwise knew him), and so took a chance on his novel, even though it was in a genre he doesn't read a lot of.

I could, of course, be utterly wrong.

Redag said...

The company in which the review places the novel seems instructive. Approvingly cited: The Lord Of The Rings, The Deed Of Paksenarrion, and The Wheel Of Time.

This does strike me as a list from someone who does not stay current with the genre, and as someone who has only recently come back to fantasy after being an SF guy for a long time, it seems like the genre has changed a lot. George R. R. Martin has sculpted the flabby giant fantasy saga into a more athletic and compelling form, China Mieville has re-empowered to be prickly and stimulating and alienating, and folks like R. Scott Bakker and all these other well-reviewed fantasists are adding distinctly more interesting material to the genre.

All in my never-humble opinion, of course.

(Note: the review's author has a bio blurb which describes her as 'never having lived north of the Mason-Dixon line' which seems to kill the ex-student line.)

If this appears a couple times, please kill blogger for me, it sure _looks_ like it means to tell me to retry the captcha/login.

Anonymous said...


Wow. Talk about desperately scrabling for a conspiracy. The city the newspaper *started* is located in the same state where they guy is a teacher. *Obviously* something must be up.

I swear you reviewers are bitchy as highschool girls.

So what if she likes the book more that you did? I doubt very much that she was paid or bribed or has some sinister motive. She just has different tastes.

Oh and by the way, the reviewer's name was "Donna." That would make her a "she" not a "he."

Andrew Wheeler said...

Jake: Well, I did say that I could be completely wrong...and I was.

I don't think anyone was claiming a conspiracy; this reviewer (whose personal pronoun I got wrong) obviously reacted very strongly, and positively, to The Name of the Wind -- which is, I'll say again, a really, really good fantasy novel, in case that point is in danger of getting lost -- in a way which seemed a bit over the top. The human impulse is to try to explain things, even if those explanations are half guess and half myth.

Maybe she did like it better than I did...or maybe she liked it about as much as I did (I liked it a lot), but she hasn't read all that many of the books she compared it to. (Or maybe she has, and deliberately meant to place Name of the Wind above Perdido and Jonathan Strange and Anansi Boys. It's hard to tell.)

Anonymous said...

Jesus, Andrew. Missed this. Yeah, utterly wrong. Queen-Elizabeth-controls-the-world-heroin-trade wrong.

Short answer: Donna Bowman lives in central Arkansas. She's a theologian. Her husband, Noel Murray, was originally hired as a freelancer by the Chicago office of the A.V. Club, which is separate from the main Onion editorial office on Broadway. They're Southerners.

I only know one person from Stevens Point (Rothfuss's campus) at the Onion -- she's a cinematographer by training who works on the broadcasts for the Onion News Network. She's been there six months, and if memory serves, she went to the University of Washington.

The Wisconsin core of the Onion editorial staff formed in Madison while Rothfuss was still in high school. Any influence would be in the opposite direction.

Would it be insulting for me to ask whether your experiences within science fiction publishing predisposed you to your... rather nepotistic explanation? Because now I'm utterly curious.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Carlos: Well, am I ever sorry I dug out that random fact...

The core Onion staff has always seemed really clubby, or cliquey; I wasn't aware that the AV Club folks were an entirely different clique. That's all it was; that they all seem to have come straight out of Wisconsin, and off a college campus -- and Rothfuss was associated with a different branch of the same college.

Anonymous said...

Cliquier than science fiction people? Dude. We're transparent. No deep dark secrets that can't be mentioned on SFWA public forums.

Stephen Thompson peeled off the A.V. Club a decade ago, in the same way that a regular newspaper has separate news and arts desks. It also made franchising local content easier.

I'm still curious. I know James Nicoll doesn't review books for the SFBC that way, even though both he and you are fans, and so are many science fiction authors. In fact, I daresay you'd all be deeply insulted if I claimed that the SFBC played fennish favorites.

But then, here you are talking smack about people you don't know, at an organization whose internal structure you don't know -- even though it's all public, so basically you couldn't be bothered to find out -- because a writer who got a review you thought was too fulsome is from the same state as some of the people who work there.

I'm a little annoyed. What next, allegations of payola from the American Dairy Association? I'd bring it up at the next Elders of Wisconsin meeting, except they don't know why I bother with you folks.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Carlos: You must be posting from one of those universes where book-reviewing isn't relexively seen as a hotbed of log-rolling and back-scratching; I suppose you have flying cars and fusion power too cheap to meter, as well?

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