Monday, September 17, 2007

The Wheel Turns...R.I.P. Robert Jordan

James Oliver Rigney, also known as Robert Jordan passed away yesterday. I’m just one of many blogs, fans, and news sites reporting this, but it is still worth mentioning here. His Wheel of Time is easily one of the most popular (if not the largest) multi-volume sagas in the genre and helped to make fantasy (and I’m sure by extension, Science Fiction) a more commercially viable genre in the nineties on through to today. For all the finger pointing at Jordan for his shortcomings as a storyteller, he was one of the great “gatekeepers” of the genre, and hopefully will be for many years. The Eye of the World, and to a lesser extent his Conan novels, are some of the first fantasy books people read, or fiction people read in general.

I can only relate my own experience with his writing, and how it helped to bring me back in a greater way to reading fantasy and science fiction. I’d always enjoyed reading; after all I was an English major in college. As I might have said, I cut my reading chops at a very young age on those Choose Your Own Adventure books as well as The Three Investigators, then I moved onto Stephen King somewhere just before middle school. That brought me a bunch of horror, basically whatever my parents had on the shelves. Then, I found Dungeons & Dragons as a game, and DragonLance as a story. Soon, though, college called and my “free-time” reading became something of the past.

As college wound down, my free reading time returned. One of the first books I recall buying was The Eye of the World; I saw something about this Wheel of Time series on one of those news shows the SciFi Channel once aired, Sci Fi Buzz hosted by Mike Jerrick. He and Jordan were discussing the Wheel of Time. The concept interested me; I liked the idea of resonating myths coming to life; a fantasy world that has echoes of our own. I recalled Jordan’s name when I visited Barnes & Noble some time later. I figured, what the heck, the book looks interesting. I was hooked, and I have to admit to still recalling some of the scenes from the first book pretty clearly even a decade later. When I joined the Science Fiction Book Club shortly thereafter, I wound up ordering the next two books and read though them fairly quickly. I didn’t want to have to wait to mail in my order the SFBC and then wait for them to deliver the next books, which would have been The Shadow Rising and The Fires of Heaven, so I bought one in paperback and the other as a discounted hardback.

I remember reading some of the scenes in Lord of Chaos long into the night and in general, those first five or six books of the Wheel of Time were some of the most fun and compelling reading experiences I had, at least up until that point. Despite how a couple of the later books in the series left me unsatisfied, The Wheel of Time will always have a special spot on my bookshelf. I’ve been wondering for a while now if the first books would hold up as well if I were to re-read them. I was considering going through them again once the final book was to be published. Perhaps, as David Gemmell’s widow did, Jordan’s widow can finish off the last volume. She was, after all, his editor.

Before The Eye of the World was published, Jordan published other novels, but he also lived a damned interesting life. He studied physics at the Citadel, he was a nuclear engineer, and fought in the Vietnam War where he received awards for his bravery in the war and settled into a house built in the late 18th Century. Not a shabby set of life experiences, if you ask me.

Robert Jordan, through his Wheel of Time, was an ambassador to the genre, welcoming new readers. Jordan has been compared to Tolkien, and say what you will, Jordan’s importance to the genre cannot be understated. George R. R. Martin has already posted a very nice remembrance of Jordan and a thanks, as have many others. The Wheel of Time helped to make fantasy a much larger genre, and brought in a large audience. As of yesterday, the genre has lost another giant and is a shade smaller.

For that, and the many hours of reading pleasure he brought to his fans, James Oliver Rigney will be missed. Death is never easy, even when you are given a set time to live. My condolences go out to his family, friends and many readers, including those who came together in life through his books.

Over at SFFWorld, we’ve got a thread recalling his work where our members are posting their thoughts and remembrances.

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