The Name of the Yawn: A Review

It’s my second go-around with Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of The Wind. Once, about seven years ago, I gave this novel a shot. I didn’t finish it. It was too…boring. Or maybe I was too distracted to give the novel its due attention.

Now, it’s 2017. A friend recently raved about this book. And I keep reading about how this Rothfuss fellow is poised to become the next George R.R. Martin. Admittedly, I have never read a single Martin novel. But this isn’t about The Game of Thrones books. This is about The Name of the Wind, a book given accolades by no less than Anne McCaffrey, Tad Williams, and Orson Scott Card (all of whom, I might point out, are also published by DAW).

I am a huge fan of many books published by DAW. Sadly, The Name of the Wind is not one of them. For the most part, the novel reads like a character sketch for a prolonged Dungeons and Dragons session. Don’t get me wrong. I love fantasy novels, I have played my fair share of D&D when I was younger. It’s almost as if Kvothe (pronounced “Quothe”), the main character, is something Heinlein would have dreamed up, and then subsequently aborted. Ditto for the guy who chronicles Kvothe’s tale, a writer who goes by the rather lackluster moniker Chronicler.

The writing is flat. The story goes nowhere. We meet Kvothe who goes by the name of Kote now (clearly, there’s no witness protection program in this universe; otherwise, old Kvothe might have picked a more suitable alias to avoid detection). Kote runs a tavern. One night a guy from town comes in all bloodied up, claiming that his horse has been killed. You will have to read this book (or not) to find out why. Not long after, the Chronicler shows up. And Kote/Kvothe, who apparently has been seeking to avoid recognition, gives in to the quill-toting writer (okay, maybe it’s not a quill he writes with) and his request to put down on paper the mysterious Kvothe’s story.

Moving forward, the narrative shifts to the first person as Kvothe spins his yawn…sorry. I meant yarn. Apparently, there’s just about nothing that old Kvothe hasn’t experienced, from battling evil spider-like demons (there seems to be some debate within the novel about the nature of these creepy crawlers) to shagging a goddess.

In the end, however, the novel is a flat read with next to no conflict and even less character development. In all good fiction, regardless of genre, a reader needs to connect to the main character on some level. This novel did not provide such an experience for this reader. Perhaps if I had been an adolescent boy with no knowledge of sex or good storytelling, for that matter, I might have been duped by this train wreck. But I am not. So, I am off to rid myself of the residue of this book with some Tolkien.

High Castle Baseball or, a Review of Sorts

I give Philip K. Dick credit for the alternate history/aftermath of WWII in his novel The Man in the High Castle. However, my biggest contention, and there are many with this particular novel, is why we meet Hawthorne Abendsen so late in the story. It was a letdown. 

Throughout the story the build-up indicates that the reader will eventually meet the author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the novel within the novel penned Abendsen and popular among the money characters within Dick’s tale. Ultimately, however, Abendsen turns out to be not as mythical or larger-than-life as I had anticipated.

Recently, I read a quote from a literary journal editor who said, and I’m paraphrasing here, the difference between “literary” fiction and other genres like science fiction is that there are no memorable characters which is a hallmark of so-called literary fiction (Holden Caulfield, Emma Bovary, Celie, and Humbert Humbert, to name just a few).

I am hard-pressed to recall one science fiction character who makes the grade where this theory is concerned. The monster in Frankenstein, perhaps? Surely, not Winston Smith; even though we feel sorry for him (or not if you’re some sort of sociopath). Marvin the Paranoid Android from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Not exactly human, is he? The same goes for The Man in the High Castle. We have this build-up throughout the novel; only to find out that Abendsen doesn’t actually live in the High Castle anymore.

True, Philip K. Dick was prolific. Like other prolific writers, not every novel is guaranteed to be a winner. It’s ironic that Dick began his career trying to get “literary” novels published. Don’t get me wrong. Philip K. Dick is one of my favorite writers. The Man in the High Castle, however, despite winning the Hugo Award in 1963 for best novel, was more of a triple rather than a homer. For my money, nothing beats A Scanner Darkly or the VALIS Trilogy. Ditto for Flow My Tears the Policeman Said.