On first looking into The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time, as most of y'all probably know, has been nominated for a Hugo award, in the Best Novel category. There have been many arguments in the past about whether a 14-volume series should be nominated as a novel, and I'm sure there will be many such arguments in Ages yet to come. And all such arguments are the same argument, as the Wheel turns.

(The most interesting argument I've heard in favor of it counting as a single gigantic work is that most readers don't know the titles of the individual books; they just talk about it as The Wheel of Time.)

But that's not what I'm here to discuss today. Instead, this post consists merely of a couple of preliminary metacomments. No spoilers here.

In most years my decision about what to read would be easy; I don't usually read the novel nominees at all. But this year, I really really want to vote for the one novel nominee that I had read beforehand. And I have a policy of not voting in a category where I'm not reasonably well-informed; in particular, if I'm not familiar with at least three of the nominees (preferably at least four, ideally all of them), then I don't vote in that category. I'm not advocating this policy for everyone, but it's the policy I've usually adhered to for myself. And so I decided that before I could vote for the novel I want to vote for, I should familiarize myself with the other nominees.

Note that I don't require myself to actually read every word of every nominee. If I lose interest, or get annoyed, or otherwise decide I don't want to read the whole thing, I'm happy to skim and to rely on synopses.

So with all of that in mind, here are my thoughts from before attempting to read The Wheel of Time:

  • I opened up the epub version of The Whole Damn Series In One Ebook (as I have affectionately nicknamed it), and discovered that (with my page layout and font size) it's twenty thousand pages long.




    In the most common mass-market paperback edition, according to Wikipedia, it's “only” twelve thousand pages long. My reading speed is a little more than one mass-market paperback page per minute, so if I were to read the entire series (which was never going to happen, but let's pretend for the sake of argument), reading nonstop for eight hours a day, it would take me most of a month.

    Or, to put it another way, the series is about 4.4 million words long. The Dozois Year's Bests tend to contain (very roughly) about 250,000 to 300,000 words of fiction. So Wheel of Time is very roughly as long as sixteen volumes of that series.

    That's a whole lot of words.

  • Given that there's no way I'm reading the whole thing, I decided to skim parts of the series and read synopses for the rest. In case anyone's interested, here are some sources of synopses that look like they're likely to be useful:

    • The abovelinked Wikipedia page's Setting section gives what initially appears to be a ten-paragraph plot synopsis of something. But it turns out that in fact that's a synopsis of the backstory, covering thousands of years of history leading up to the start of the books. The fact I found reading the synopsis of the backstory kind of exhausting adds weight to my belief that this series is probably not my cup of tea.
    • The abovelinked Wikipedia page provides links to Wikipedia pages for the individual books in the series, and each of those individual-book pages contains a high-level plot summary, on the order of 5-10 paragraphs for each book (though some are longer).
    • The online Wheel of Time Encyclopedia has a synopsis of every chapter of every book, along with helpful links, and diagrams showing which plot threads are covered in which chapters. It looks like the synopsis pages for book 1 are a good place to start.

Okay, that's all. To those who are in the same boat as me: Good luck.

I wrote a version of the above post to send to a mailing list a week ago; since then I've embarked on my project. I decided to read the first 1% of the series, and then switch to skimming and/or synopses. I got through chapter 8 of book 1, and decided that the dream sequence at the start of chapter 9 would be a good time to switch to synopses. Haven't yet finished reading the synopses.

(See also the Facebook comment thread for this post, which I think is visible even to people without Facebook accounts.)

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