11/29/09

David Gaider Is Made of Cheese -- A Review of Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne


I’d like to share with you the following statement by youtube user hyrulehistorian, posted on Bioware’s youtube page for their new game, Dragon Age: Origins.

“this is legit, im reading the prequel novel right now, and im getting the feeling in my gut that we are seeing the birth of what will become one of the all time great fantasy universes.”

Do I seem hung up on what other people like? If I am, it’s because of statements like that.

As a preface to my review of David Gaider’s Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, I must say something of my stance on franchise novels. Franchise novels allow the terminally uncreative the pleasure of saying that they read without actually requiring much beyond functional literacy. Rather than asking the reader to stick with the author as he or she tells a story, the tie-in novel asks for the player to read up on a familiar setting, characters, or events out of brand loyalty, or to satisfy the inherently nerdy obsession with (entirely made up) minutia and trivia. The plots cannot interfere with each other, or an excuse must be made for why person x is still around when person x previously left/died/inter-dimensionally relocated in one of the previous novels/games/comic books. These products exist solely to market the video games on which they’re based, with the hope that the video games will hook people into buying the novels to learn more about the setting, and the made up lore, or the political/religious/historical conflicts that might be only obliquely mentioned in the game.

Here’s a quote from Game Informer’s (Issue 175, pg 151) review of Mass Effect, which I think illustrates the mindset of somebody who reads tie-in novels, and likely nothing but tie-in novels:

“[Mass Effect] is an amazing work of fiction, a visual work of art, and a property that is so fully realized and so rich in its backstory that its content could fill countless games, books, and movies. This is the next big franchise for science fiction junkies to latch onto, and a huge step forward for video games.”

What does this tell us, besides that editor Andrew Reiner is a giant rube? Think about the idea that the “backstory” could “fill countless games, books, and movies.” That’s pretty much the greatest virtue that anything could have for the sort of audience that reads Game Informer. Despite all of the breathless superlatives Reiner ascribes to Mass Effect as fiction, the one element that he actually delineates is the milieu and the world-building that accompanies it, because that’s all that matters to him. It’s something for the people he thinks are “science fiction junkies” to escape in and over which they can argue, until the next novel or game comes out and provides a conclusive answer. Essentially, it’s there to answer all the questions, raise just enough new ones to keep its audience interested in the next product, and prevent them from thinking too hard.

Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne fits well in this line of thinking.
It opens with Maric being chased down by the underlings of traitorous banns (apparently, the word bann substitutes for the word baron in David Gaider’s D&D campaign) who just killed his mother, the rightful queen of Ferelden. Maric escapes capture only to find himself in the company of Loghain, whose father leads a large band of outlaws. The outlaws were once good citizens, until the unfair taxes of the newly appointed King Meghren of Orlais forced them to willingly break the law. Maric doesn’t tell them that he is the prince and that his mother, the rebel queen, has died, or that Meghren’s troops will be looking for him. Consequently, the camp of outlaws is raided, and Loghain’s father demands his son help restore Maric to the rebel army. Of course, Loghain’s father dies, giving Loghain a reason to be emo for a while, and Maric a chance to win him over as a friend who will do all of Maric’s dirty work.

Eventually, Loghain manages to put Maric back into contact with the army. Loghain falls in love with Rowan, Maric’s betrothed, while Maric falls in love with an elf named Katriel as they campaign against the Orlaisian usurper. Then the army suffers a major loss, and Maric, Loghain, Katriel and Rowan have to travel through the Deep Roads (i.e. Mines of Moira) where they encounter giant spiders, darkspawn (orcs), and Dwarves who agree to help Maric regain the thrown. But even after making it safely back to the surface, Maric must face treachery and the difficult reality of a king’s duty.

Does it all sound like generic fantasy plot #5? It is generic fantasy plot #5, and Gaider doesn’t do much to make it worth reading. The pacing in the first half janks about due to it being primarily about Maric’s military campaign, and settles into a rote dungeon crawling sequence for much of the final act. But one might forgive the plotting were it not for the characterization, which reeks of cliché. Maric is blonde, handsome, and noble; he loves his subjects and cares for people to a fault. He’s naïve. He’s unsure of himself and incompetent as a strategist. Yet all the women love him, and he inspires hope among every warrior he meets with what Gaider calls “infectious charm,” and I call grating attempts at sophomoric wit, always ready with some flaccid quip when the tone gets too serious. He’s the self-portrait a lot of nerds paint when they’re being dishonest. He’s destined to not suck.

Loghain is an equally lazy stock character, an angsty, brooding fellow with “piercing blue eyes.” Rowan is too. She’s an Amazonian lady-warrior who wants Marric to see her as a woman, not just a warrior. Meghran is a debauched, violent pussy who has no redeeming qualities or even a personality. Severan, his right hand man and sorcerer, is an equally violent, though much more effective pussy, and has no redeeming qualities or even a personality. Dwarves build tunnels and hit things with warhammers. Elves shoot bows, and… uh, are pretty, I guess. Ugh.
Even Gaider’s writing is leaden and expository, frequently juvenile in the worst places and in the worst ways. Among the more embarrassing aspects of the prose is Gaider’s commitment to adverbs, particularly in certain paragraphs where every sentence contains at least one. For example:

“Maric dug into his stew ravenously. Katriel picked at hers gingerly, sipping on some of the broth. The dwarf all but gulped his down greedily, finishing it long before the others were even half done, and then belching loudly. He wiped his beard with the back of his hand.

‘Not as Hungry as you thought?’ he asked, watching their progress.

‘No it’s fine,’ Maric quickly commented…”

That whole passage is just infuriating. It’s like filling out a list: this person does this, this way. This person does this, this way. This person does this, this way, then does this, this way. That’s not to even mention the context of this scene, in which Maric and Katriel have just walked for miles, injured and without much food or water, and Katriel is picking at her food rather than just eating it. It’s terribly lazy writing, acceptable in a first draft but damning in published work from somebody who claims writing as his profession.

Another gem:

“Maric stared at her in disbelief. He wasn’t quite sure she could have said anything else that would have been less surprising. Well perhaps a confession that she was actually made of cheese.”

Frankly, I’d be less than surprised were the admission Mr. Gaider’s.

In defense of Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, there are moments when it isn’t horrible to read. I liked when Maric confronted the banns who killed his mother. I liked that David Gaider at least tried to develop a theme of the unpleasant, even morally reprehensible things that must be done in order to effectively govern, and the guilt that accompanies them. The battle descriptions plod, but Gaider, in his mercy, spares his readers a similar treatment of sex (and rape). I appreciate that the obligatory dragon scene doesn’t involve telepathic communication.

But these moments are few, and they don’t mitigate flawed nature of the narrative, the writing, and the prose, even the setting. The world feels Tolkeinesque -- Dwarves, elves, etc. -- with some French and some fabricated titles. Knights are called chevaliers, for reasons I don’t really care to ponder, although I suppose that Orlais could be some sort of caricatured French empire. Various characters of high rank have titles like arl (earl), bann (baron?), and Teyrn (I’m flummoxed). Worse, Gaider doesn’t seem familiar enough with Medieval custom and manner to know that “your highness,” “your grace,” “your majesty,” and “my lord” all relate specifically to people of different ranks. The portrayal of magic is right out of a video game. All that’s missing is “Magic Missile!” or maybe “Blizzara!” Is all this nit-picky? I don’t care. It annoyed me.

Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne also speaks the veracity of that old truism, “write what you know.” Let me amend that: If you don’t know anything, don’t write. Or, if you don’t know anything, write for a video game. Or a video game franchise novel.

David Gaider is the lead writer for Bioware’s video game, Dragon Age: Origins, of which I’ve heard good things. I disliked, immensely, the marketing for that game, and I dislike this novel, which is part of said marketing. There are those who excuse this kind of writing as being purely escapist, not worthy of any praise, but also not deserving of a thorough critique. To this, I say that there is a great deal of escapist fantasy that’s actually engaging, intelligent, and well written. Franchise novels, by and large, aren’t. They’re books designed for people who don’t read, to ensure that they won’t read as much as they watch movies, play video games, and buy enormous card collections and rule books.

It isn’t actually that much fun to rip something like Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne on the internet. But such novels developed a huge market, allowing kids and tasteless adults like hyrulehistorian the undue (mostly imagined) honor of being a “reader” -- the fun of feigning literacy on their youtube and facebook profiles. Consider this a referendum on all video game, card game, board game, and Star Wars/Star Trek/whatever novels. When I go to my local book store and there’s no longer a full three rows devoted to this crap, I’ll take this review down, and replace it with my assurances that David Gaider’s probably a swell Canadian fellow IRL.

 
Be sure to read my review of David Gaider's follow up to The Stolen Throne, Dragon Age: The Calling. It sucks too.

29 comments:

  1. SONNET XXXIX FOR KATIE

    I went downtown, saw Katie in the nude
    on Common Avenue, detracted soltitude
    as it were, like a dream-state rosely hued,
    like no one else could see her; DAMN! I phewed;

    was reciprokelly then, thank heaven, viewed,
    bestowed unique hard-on! but NOT eschewed,
    contrair-ee-lee, she took a somewhat rude
    'n readidy attude of Sex Prelude; it BREWED!

    And for a start, i hiccuped "Hi!", imbued
    with Moooood! She toodledooed: "How queued
    your awe-full specie-ally-tee, Sir Lewd,
    to prove (alas!), to have me finely screwed,

    and hopef'lly afterwards beloved, wooed,
    alive, huh? Don't you even DO it, Duu-uuude!"

    My English Poetry Blog

    N'est-que pas que la solitude elle-mème eveille quelque attente fébrile? Voici l'entrée, vide, discrètetement illuminée comme une musée nocturne – la terasse, avec ses torchères ondoyantes par un soir d'Avent étrangement doux – laissant le vestibule et les murmures de voix – la chambre immaculée immaculée et la musique de danse derrière le mur – et le bar à cocktails mondains – le bassin où le nageur s'entrâine, longeur après longeur, il en n'a jamais assez, il doit y mettre de sien – enfin, tournant vers le haut au coin du sombre couloir vient la fille noire et pâle, altière, déterminée et de style épuré, ainsi qu'un moderne avion de chasse suédois.

    Poétudes

    More...

    Exit time. Las chicas dejan el espejo de bar
    dormindose en sus corazónes de alta traícion.
    El Señor no levanta. Él pastorea a sus pies
    los presuntos compradores. Y nos bendice.

    My spanish poetry blog

    More...

    Consider Sex and time, procreation, reincarnation. Trigonometry! I envisage the time axis as the repetitive tangens function. Do you see what I mean? What can be tentatively derived from this notion? Clue: orgasm AND birth pangs at tan 0.

    My Philosophy

    My Music Blog

    My Babe Wallpapers

    You are very welcome to promote your blog on mine. They are well frequented, so there's mutual benefit.

    - Peter Ingestad, Sweden

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a load of pretentious shit. It's a good, solid fantasy novel. As you stated, franchise novels are generally bad, but to proclaim a franchise novel is terrible because it isn't 'Tuesday's with Morrie' marks you as the literary version of a wine snob. Take it for what it is: A decently written book, with a compelling, character-driven story, that reaches out to the fans of a particular franchise. Go re-read Tolstoy you pretentious twat.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "There are those who excuse this kind of writing as being purely escapist, not worthy of any praise, but also not deserving of a thorough critique. To this, I say that there is a great deal of escapist fantasy that’s actually engaging, intelligent, and well written."

    Did you even bother to read my whole review? I'm giving you the benefit of assuming you can read.

    I disagree that it was a "good, solid fantasy novel." That's just an affront to people who actually do write good solid fantasy novels. Either your standards for the genre are exceptionally low or you're a thin-skinned video gamer/fanboy who doesn't read terribly often. I'm leaning towards the latter, since you find neither synonyms for "pretentious" (look up what that word actually means, please) and you tell me to go re-read Tolstoy because that's likely the only author you know who a "pretentious twat" would read.

    This book would never have been published were it not for its video game tie-in. Examples of fantasy novels that were published for their literary merit include Gene Wolfe's The Wizard Knight, Jessica Salmonson's Tomoe Gozen, Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea, E. Hoffman Price's The Devil Wives of Li Fong. I like all of these. None of them contain entire paragraphs of people "doing this, thusly."

    I didn't claim anything to be terrible because of what it wasn't. I stated that Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne was terrible because it was terrible. Now put your big girl panties on and go play Mass Effect.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Maybe I'd had a bad day. I still think you're pretentious, I still think it's a decent read. I think it even more so given the genre and the fact that it IS a franchise novel.

    I take back the insults, however, they were uncalled for and I apologize. You can read Heller if you prefer... ;)

    ReplyDelete
  5. You can like whatever it is that you like; I don't really care and it won't change my opinion. But how, exactly, am I pretentious? Standards =/= pretense. In fact, it's rather the opposite.

    As for your apology: accepted.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sadly, you are right. In fact, Mr Gaider is one of the best RPG designers/writers: Baldur's Gate I & II, Neverwinter Nights and Dragon Age all have extremely well-written, memorable characters and solid plot lines. Unfortunately, his writing does not work too well when separated from the accompanying media, so to say. It's not exactly his fault. For instance, Nick Cave's poetry also does not work too well on its own. His first-rate music and unique vocal delivery change the perspective radically, though. In short, consider playing Dragon Age: Origins :) Gaider's writing is best experienced that way.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ah, by the way... A little something from the horse's mouth: http://blog.bioware.com/2008/12/09/writing-a-novel-p1/

    ReplyDelete
  8. I haven't read the other Dragon Age novel Gaider wrote, but I will say that The Stolen Throne is better than the Baldur's Gate novelizations from way back when. And I agree that Gaider writes some of the better video game/RPG dialogue, but I think part of that is because he has a lot of people helping him out. There's character designers and a graphical interface (and some well done gameplay in Baldur's Gate 2) and even voice actors in the case of Dragon Age: Origins, all of whom do things that a novelist must render in prose. Mr. Gaider's prose blows.

    Also, if you're a fan of Cave, you should read The Death of Bunny Munro. It's good.

    ReplyDelete
  9. wow, what an honor it would seem. Right so, since I was used as a sacrificial lamb for this, I guess I should defend myself or something. I never wrote that as a formal critique. I wrote it as a giddy fanboy eagerly anticipating the spiritual sucessor of Baldur's Gate. Of course I was going to be on Bioware's dick.
    I find life easiest to go into something with exceedingly low expectations. A prequel novel to a video game that hasn't been released yet, the bar was set even lower. It was a good book, and a fun book. The expectations were exceeded. I felt it was better than some other recent popular fantasy books, Eragon comes to mind. This book has a nice place on my shelf with all my other nerd books. Like Star Wars: Heir to the Empire. I guess having read a lot of books like that as a kid allows me to still enjoy a book of this calibur.
    Actually the glory of this book for me was giving me added insight, especially into Loghain. Loghain just seemed like a deusch in the game. But I can understand why allowing Orlesian Chevalires across the border would cause him to do what he does.
    Is Gaider Tolkien? Hell no. Tolkien weilded words like no man I have read since. But I stand by what I said. I do have a feeling in my gut this is going to be one of the all time great fantasy realms. But not in terms of novels. I was referring to video game franchises. This is going to rise above places like the world of warcraft or even hyrule itself!
    I don't thing I have ever crowned myself a reader. I'm known to read a novel from time to time. I always love a good story. I am, however, a gamer.
    And Dragon Age: Origins is all that and a bag of potato chips.
    im not as much of an idiot as my quote makes me look. Have a nice day.

    ReplyDelete
  10. @hyrulehistorian:
    Both you and Gaider were made into goats for this review, which is really just a rant against licensed "literature." Of course you're not an idiot. The review is hyperbolic, not as much as what you said on the Bioware page, but it's not how I would state things were I writing a formal critique myself.

    Thanks for being a good sport.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Try "The Sten and the Warden" book. You may like that one instead.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I found a work version of the third book- http://www.cgrigging.com/Files/TheStenandtheWardendoc.pdf

    bwahahaha

    ReplyDelete
  13. I didn't read the novel but this review was cool to check, and i can say, after having played the game, that some of what you say really does apply to it(obviously, i might add). The dialogues were ok, but the plot line, the characters and the lore just lack any kind of creativity.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Dear Pigsy, I am terribly relieved to see another review that is not some blindly adoring hymn to the supposed brilliance of this piece of crap. D.G. indeed has some good ideas but he just could not make the most of them, at least not yet in prose. He apparently did not even know that verbal contractions are inappropriate in prose (except for quoted conversation). Then the whole universe is not really all that original to begin with, but at least it was nicely polished and well presented in the DAO game, in an 'as on the tin' way.
    I may not be the most erudite of readers/gamers, but this book has got to be one of the worst I have ever had the misfortune of encountering. I very much enjoyed reading your review, and realise that perhaps reading reviews like yours make the torture of ploughing through that book still worthwhile in the end.
    In case you are interested in reading more criticism: I just put my 1-star review on amazon.com (same alias).

    ReplyDelete
  15. You may find it amusing that someone has written a review on Amazon and used the tag "adverbs".

    ReplyDelete
  16. @Madchester
    I'm glad that my review made the reading of DA:TST more retroactively more bearable for you.

    I try not to be pedantic when it comes to rules about prose, as I happen to greatly appreciate authors (Jack Vance, Cormac McCarthy for example) who regularly break the rules that you might learn in, say, a creative writing 101 course. Gaider's prose technique was just thoroughly amateurish and in need of revision.

    Your erudition is more than acceptable. Don't Worry about it.

    @sweezely
    I saw that. I lol'd.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I have my doubts you played the game, in fact.
    Truth is that The stolen throne is, in fact, a prequel to the game, so none of them interferes with the other. Truth be told, it kind of explained a few things about the game when I read the book. At least for me.

    Anyway, my point is: A good story is a good story.
    If Gaider's work is known because of the game, who the hell cares? In fact, that game appeared BECAUSE of Gaider's imagination and capacity to concieve a ficticious world and a good story for it. A story so long that he had to skip to the main dish (the game, Dragon Age: Origins) and then go back to what he had to skip.

    About your opinion, well... if you did't like the book, so sorry for you. It gave me hours of entertainment. Just as a friendly advice, maybe you should try to enjoy books and imagine a bit more than just going straight to criticizing other people's work

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thank you for commenting on my blog, Anonymous. I only wish I could thank you for reading my post. Nowhere do I claim to have played Dragon Age: Origins. Neither do I think you bothered to read any of the other comments, nor do I think you read much at all. Or write, given the tortured grammar of your second sentence.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hahah this is brilliant. I only came here given Gaider linked this review in a thread on BSN (Bioware Social Network) about his third book coming out. The irony was that he he then went on this half hearted rant about how he didn't care what people thought of his work. It's like dude, this review came out in 09 and your bringing it up. He admitted that he uses too many adverbs though. You knwo what I hate though and it's riddled in the game is this stupid double meaning humour.

    "I love to polish my weapon"
    "Why are you telling me this?"
    "Wait WHAT!. What the hell are you insinuating".

    I mean it's just so juevenile and lame and it's everywhere!!!.

    ReplyDelete
  20. In Gaider's defense, he wasn't the one who actually posted the link.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Pretentious: "Characterized by assumption of dignity or importance." Sounds about right. You constantly assume the importance of skilled and creative writing, and appear to unquestionably link writing skill to intelligence. There is more than one type of intelligence, for one thing, and literary intellect and other types of intelligence are not always mutual. Your characterization of those lacking your literary capability is insensitive to the diversity of intelligence your readers may have.

    You furthermore assume that well-written literature is inherently more engaging. It is not. Whether something is engaging depends on the reader, not on the reading level. These assumptions come off as elitist, and thereby pretentious.

    I don't mean to be philistine; intellectual literature and its pursuers are admirable. That doesn't mean you need to be dismissive of those who don't share your tastes.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hah! Somebody finally looked it up. Good job, anon. Now go find a few real examples of how that word is actually used.

    That you think a review as silly and hyperbolic as this assumes dignity or importance is -- not to be too "elitist" about it -- typical. I mean, come on, bro. I've got Gaider's disembodied head in a random encounter screen.

    Your comment, anon, is a series of baseless assumptions, inconsequential assertions, and whining. You say that you don't mean to be a philistine. Good: don't be one.

    ReplyDelete
  23. A very good look at what's wrong with the mainstream fantasy literature in general right here. You pretty much nailed it when you mentioned the bit about "write of what you know". Most mainstream fantasy (and "sci-fi") authors these days don't know anything - they don't know how the world works, what is pain, hell, some of them don't even know much about human relationships and things like love, hate and sex.

    I've had the unfortunate and dubious pleasure of reading Mr. Paolini's masterpiece, Eragon, and those were the things frequently in my mind - the only parts of the novel that were even somewhat interesting were the things relating to the "Teenage Experience". Mr. Paolini knew what it's like to be a teenager quite well.

    The problem with the Fantasy genre is, the writers believe they don't need to know anything. It's a fantasy, right? Make it up! Gods, magic, prophecies, fate, elves, dwarves, cleavage and glowing swords. It's all there in the Lord of the Rings after all, and Lord of the Rings is awesome, and what's best, it's been made into movies so you don't even need to waste your time reading all those words anymore.

    Of course it doesn't help that the writers are talentless, uninspired and devoid of passion either.

    -Ang

    ReplyDelete
  24. David Gaider, although in some senses creative, has spent the better quantity of his creative juice back writing Baldur's Gate II. Unfortunately, even then his writing contained the same sense of directionlessness, cheesy caricatures without much in the way of development ("I'm the bad guy because I like torturing things, rawr!"), and, of course, the genuinely grating "romance" plots with characters designed solely to appeal to lonely nerds - I am not lying when I say one is a half-elf half-angel thing with broken wings who needs to be taught to live and love again. God damn, now I'm getting hard.

    That said, in game form, his dialogue is (or at least, used to be) alright, especially when he's writing "ordinary folk" rather than bizarre and "quirky" characters that people seem to love him for. I'd say most of the incidental dialogue he pens is far more interesting than anything devoted to the main plot threads or characters, which I can't decide is either praise or criticism.

    As you said a while back, I think he's also much better in a videogame context because he has others doing the heavy lifting for him - voice actors, other writers, bits of the world which can be communicated through visuals rather than text, etc. Hell, looking at those choice quotes, I have suspicions as to whether or not The Stolen Throne even had an editor, because frankly I was writing better fiction in high school, and I'm a goddamn terrible fiction writer.

    The true sign of a hack is what begins to happen when the ideas begin to run dry. David Gaider's "work" on Dragon Age II and other BioWare material is, frankly, some of the most embarrassing and terrible I have ever seen, regardless of medium. People were accusing you of being pretentious above, but if anything, Gaider is the one who's loaded with it - all the vanity that comes from self-awareness at being an EPIC FANTASY ACTION WRITER, and none of the talent to back any of it up whatsoever. The fact that apparently BioWare has decided to start recruiting from fan fiction web sites, and that some of their writers apparently don't care for or even fundamentally understand the capacity for interactive narrative in videogames, suggests to me that the decline will continue for some time.

    The sad thing? BioWare are constantly hailed as being the chief storytellers of the videogame industry, the guys who focus on narrative and characters above all else, the ones who are so consumed by it that sometimes it even comes at the expense of gameplay. Fuck that shit. They're a bunch of middle-aged teenagers and lonely hearts looking to project their "cute elf servant girl" fetishes onto others. Meanwhile, developers like Black Isle, Troika and Obsidian have historically been downplayed even though the stuff they did (and do) makes BioWare's look like the amateur crap it is.

    ReplyDelete
  25. @Ang
    Do not get me started on Paolini.

    The infuriating thing about the sort of shameless pilfering from Tolkien that you mention - besides the fact that it's been going on for decades - is that so many rip off memorable aspects of his stories without understanding what made them memorable in the first place.

    Good authors in the genre take inspiration from Tolkien. Tolkien himself took inspiration from all sorts of literary and mythic sources. But good authors also have real stories to tell. I'm almost finished with David Gaider's follow up, The Calling, and it is terribly noticeable that Gaider has no interest in the art of fiction, let alone prose fiction. The book is a thematic mess complimented by its author's literary shortcomings. It reads like there should be "Choose your own adventure" breaks in the narrative. Sadly, it's even less open to player interaction than Bioware's recent games.

    @Eric
    I'm not much of a fiction writer myself, to be honest, but I know the look of a first draft. The Stolen Throne needed a thorough revision to be worth the trouble of printing. It would have not made it out of the slush if Gaider had gone the traditional publication route.

    Truthfully, he's not even a respectable hack. Lin Carter and John Jakes and a whole host of paid-by-the-word writers of the pulp era could knock out entertaining bullshit by the metric ton. Gaider cannot write a decent novel, from the looks of it.

    And he is certainly wanky and defensive to boot. His recent interview (I'm guessing you guys linked over here from the thread on RPGCodex?) shows him in full self-congratulatory reverie, claiming that Dragon Age as a whole is "not concerned with being epic" but with the "human condition." It's not unlike when Terry Goodkind denied that he wrote fantasy, but rather serious works about the "human condition." It's every bit as untrue. I'm actually surprised at the balls he has spewing that sort of stuff.

    If he admitted that he's just writing to entertain the fanatical neckbeards I'd probably find him a lot less irritating.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I have to wince at a phrase like 'Tolkien wielded words like no man I have read since'. Not to go all 'Epic Pooh' on you, but if that's your high bar, well, small wonder if you think that a hack job like 'The Stolen Throne' is more or less okay.

    There's another analogy somewhere up there, that demanding more from a book is equivalent to being a 'wine snob'. I suppose it is, if you think that the difference between a nice Napa Valley pinot noir and drinking turpentine is just a matter of personal taste. 'Hey, I like to drink turpentine! Where do you get off telling me that it's crap and really bad for me?' Fine, drink your turpentine then.

    A word about David Gaider, as a writer of games: What he has done from the beginning of his career is to copy the answers from other, better writers and write them in under the wrong questions, regardless of whether they fit or not. As an example, Planescape: Torment, by Chris Avellone (a good writer!) featured an emotional scene in which the Nameless One tells his companions that they don't have to follow him into the endgame, which is a personal quest for him and leads to almost certain death; one by one, they all affirm that they will follow him anyway, for reasons that arise naturally from their own characters.

    To his credit, Gaider recognised this as a valuable scene. So what did he do? Did he analyse it and apply the technique to his own work? No, of course not, he just copied it whole, and put it in Baldur's Gate 2, in a context in which it made absolutely no sense. He doesn't understand how plot and theme fit together, he just copies 'stuff that worked in another context' and throws it in.

    Recently he has been looking at 'Twilight' as a model for writing a romance that people respond to. Another writer might try to figure out what it is about 'Twilight' that made it popular. It isn't a very difficult mystery: 'Twilight' is an old-fashioned Disney myth of the vapid Princess and her Prince Charming, dressed up with vampires and werewolves so that women who are no longer eight years old, and really ought to know better, can turn the clock back on feminism about 50 years without having to face up to what prats they are being. Does David Gaider realise this? No, he does not. All he's looking at is the surface, the constipated looks and tired sighs. We can look forward to that sort of thing in future Bioware games.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Ok, wow at the late comment.

    I will point out, dear, that nobody should be going "Epic Pooh" on anybody, including Michael Moorcock. Especially Michael Moorcock, given just how poor that essay really is. Say what you will about Tolkien, but I don't see too many other writers of big, fat fantasy doorstopper series writing anything half as readable.

    I would consider The Lord of the Rings as a high point for its very particular genre, and you can plainly read that I did not consider The Stolen Throne to be pretty okay.

    Also, you're simplifying the "Twilight" phenomenon in a considerably worse way than Walt and his cronies simplified old fairy tales. The supernatural aspects of the leading men are a highly potent thematic device, and a very important part of the phenomenon - and not for the older fans, but for the younger ones. Given that you consider it not "a very difficult mystery," I expected you to have a better idea of what drove that little fad so hard.

    ReplyDelete
  28. We'll agree to disagree. I thought that 'Twilight' was fairly harmless at first, but the more I have thought about it the more I have come to realise that it is poison. It is like the anti-Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber', a book that happens to be very dear to me; and that's not to mention that the writing is simply very bad. I'm not going to write a full essay on it here (thank goodness!), so suffice it to say that, in a single phrase, 'insidiously disguised old-fashioned Disney myth' is accurate enough.

    'Epic Pooh' criticises Tolkien on the very specific grounds of its 'Little Britain' attitude, which it is hard to argue that it doesn't have. I disagree that it is a poor essay at all. On the other hand, I specifically said '*not* to go all 'Epic Pooh' on you'. By which I meant that Tolkien, for all his virtues, has never been particularly praised for his literary style, or for the richness of his images, or for the depth of his themes. Whether you like LotR or not, no one, including himself, ever claimed that those were his strengths. Until now, apparently!

    If Tolkien 'wielded words like no man you have read since' then clearly you haven't read... well, Michael Moorcock. Or China Mieville, or Ursula LeGuin, or Angela Carter, or Jorge Luis Borges, or J.G. Ballard, or Melvyn Peake, or P.G. Wodehouse, or well, you get the idea. Or you just read Tolkien yesterday and you haven't had time 'since'.

    If you're comparing him to someone like David Gaider though, the comparison becomes absurd, because Tolkien, whatever his flaws, was certainly a potent and capable writer, and Gaider is only a writer at all in the sense that he learned how to write in school.

    ReplyDelete