Four years ago, I read David Rakoff’s Don’t Get Too Comfortable, a book of collected essays. Rakoff, an out gay man, reads like a more curmudgeonly and hyperliterate version of David Sedaris, like the bastard love-child of Sedaris and Chuck Klosterman. Years later, Rakoff’s next book, Half Empty, capitalizes on his dark worldview by offering a series of loosely-connected essays in defense of the notion that pessimism is not all bad.
I can still remember buying—as a child of 7 or 8—Doom at the local grocery store; it was $5, and came in the form of two 3.5″ floppy disks. At the time, I had no real inclination what it was, other than than package promised a first-person shooter video game that involve monsters and machine guns. What’s not to like? At the time, I could not have known than I was only one of many tens of thousands—hundreds of thousands—discovering the same phenomenon. Of course, I had only bought the shareware version, which comprised the first of three episodes, and lacked the finances to pay $40 or $50 for the full version, but I played those 9 levels over and over again, and my new obsession also caused me to pluck the first of four novelizations from my dad’s bookshelf. Eventually, I would get the full, expanded Final Doom version of the game, and its followup, Doom II.
Several years ago I read Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson’s , a book of popular science whose title came from a theory about Napoleon’s botched invasion of Russia during the winter. The theory goes, as Le Couteur and Burreson reported, that the buttons of Napoleon’s soldiers, which were made of tin, turned to powder in the extreme cold, thus exposing their tender torsos to the wind. Though it seems implied, the authors don’t come down strong on either side of the historical reality of this. Though the confluence is in doubt—indeed, it seems unlikely—the individual components of the tale are true: there were a lot of dead Frenchmen that winter, and tin—a perfectly solid metal under normal conditions—does turn into powder in extreme cold.
By the time I read Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, it had been out for four years, garnered a critical mass of critical acclaim, and been followed up by a sequel both half again as late as expected and half again as long as its predecessor. The Wise Man’s Fear picks up almost exactly where the first book in the series left off. By way of summary: Kvothe, an extraordinarily intelligent and precocious gypsy child is orphaned by the brutal attack of a præternatural group called the Chandrian. His eventual enrollment in a university of engineering and magic lead him on a number of adventures both profitable (in many ways) and detrimental on his way to investigating and avenging the death of his parents. When we last left him, he had inadvertently called the True Name of the wind, which is the purest and most real form of magic.
The Name of the Wind came up, a little unexpectedly, on a list of the top 100 or so science fiction and fantasy books of all time. These are about as common as oxygen nowadays, but this particular list was from NPR, so I stopped to read. Among the obvious Tolkien, Heinlein, Herbert, Orwell, and other thoroughly entrenched authors were some surprises. I first learned of Gene Wolf’s The Book of the New Sun, which was new to me but an old book with its sci-fi bona fides. Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind was more puzzling, being the debut novel of an unknown writer, published a mere four years ago. My curiosity was piqued.