Monday, July 7, 2008

Cling to what we lose. . .

I've started re-reading Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series. I think it's right up at the top of what I consider intellectual SF/F*. I'm currently two-thirds of the way through the second in the series, Deadhouse Gates. Each of Erikson's series has multiple (and sometimes continuing) story lines. What I feel is the central plot of Deadhouse gates is a forced march of an occupying army, with refugees, called "The Chain of Dogs" while under attack by a native rebellion. Much of the action is seen through the eyes of Duiker, an old solider and currently Imperial Historian. Just prior to another of a long series of battles, Duiker makes an observation which I find compelling:

His thoughts felt fevered, spinning around an irrational terror of . . . of knowledge. Of the details that remind one of humanity. Names to faces are like twinned serpents threatening the most painful bite of all. I'll never return to the List of the Fallen, because I see now that the unnamed soldier is a gift. The named soldier--dead, melted wax--demands a response among the living . . . a response no one can make. Names are no comfort, they're a call to answer the unanswerable. Why did she die, not him? Why do the survivors remain anonymous--as if cursed--while the dead are revered. Why do we cling to what we lose while we ignore what we still hold?

Why indeed? Perhaps we should be more mindful of celebrating those who are still with us.

*The other author that I hold in this high regard is Cordwainer Smith.

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