The sf/f world suffered another huge loss. Robert Jordan died yesterday. He'd been fighting amyloidosis and was, as he said in his blog posts, determined to beat it and to finish the series that's held so very many fans' imaginations over the years.
According to the webmaster of one of his biggest fansites, the series will still continue. What form it will take remains to be seen. Right now, the community is busy grieving its loss and celebrating his life.
I picked up the Wheel of Time series in college because my friends were all talking about it. They had theories about what would happen in the next few books and kept censoring themselves or referring to things in the vaguest sense they could so they wouldn't spoil it for me. It must have been either just after A Crown of Swords was published or in the months leading up to The Path of Daggers - by the time tPoD hit the shelves in hardcover, I was all caught up and theorizing right along with them.
Back then, I wasn't much of a fantasy reader, unless it was an Arthurian setting. I was a horror girl, burying my nose in the newest King (and tossing out Dark Tower theories the way the guys did with WoT), tearing through anything that might give me a scare. People had been recommending Jordan to me for years - there were a couple of avid fans among the bookstore employees and customers who insisted I'd enjoy them. So, when I finally broke down and started reading The Eye of the World, I didn't know if I'd like it.
Turned out, my friends, co-workers and customers were all right. I was hooked. The Arthurian references were probably a help - characters named Elayne, Gawyn, Galad, Lan, Nynaeve, Morgase, a city called Caemlyn. A sword in a stone. By the time I finished the first book and moved on to The Great Hunt, I was enthralled by the characters, the story and the world.
My favorite book in the series was the sixth, Lord of Chaos. Egwene, easily my favorite female character, comes into her own. Nynaeve finally breaks through her block. The next few books bogged down for me. I won't pretend that I've loved them all or that I haven't bitched about too much time spent on clothing descriptions, or that I wasn't tired of the Aes Sedai acting like frightened novices when other women stand up to them. The later books got slow. The world is huge; there are more than five main characters now. What started out as the story of Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene and Nynaeve has expanded far beyond them. There are whole nations and factions swept up in the plot, and I can't imagine being able to keep a tight rein on them when they're all vying for a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter of their own.
Even with my nitpicking, I'd have been in line for the final book's laydown to find out what happens to the world that first pulled me back to fantasy. He's had the last chapter written since the book began, and reportedly recorded many, many notes. Perhaps I'll still see that book.
If I hadn't read Jordan, I don't know that I'd have found George RR Martin, or Steven Erikson. Both came highly recommended from the fans at wotmania. I read the RJ newsgroup for a while, and from there discovered Making Light.
I'm not sure what it is that sets the sf/f community apart from other fandoms (although, perhaps I should expand this out to mean the whole speculative fiction world, because I don't know that I'd call Stephen King an sf/f author, even though the Dark Tower books and The Eyes of the Dragon are certainly fantasy, not horror...). Other bestselling authors, who are what I guess you'd call mainstream, sometimes forget that their readership makes them successful. There are nightmare stories about these men and women being horrible to booksellers, fans, anyone, simply because they're rockstars in the world of popular fiction.
But then you look on this side of the fence, and there are people like Martin, King, Michael Connelly, Christopher Moore, and, yes, Robert Jordan, who are so very involved with their fans and are so very beloved for it. You can tell the difference between authors who see fans only as "people who buy my books" and ones who remember that we're real people.
It's been a long time since I've really kept up with the WoT community - I was always a lurker, never a poster - but I'm there today, reading the condolences and farewells at Making Light and Wotmania and Dragonmount, and getting teary when I see how positively he affected peoples' lives. Some people met their spouses through the community, some people were having tough times in their lives and the books helped them through. That, right there, is the greatest measure of his success.
I know I'm about to echo what I said last week, for Madeleine L'Engle, but I've nothing more eloquent to say:
Farewell, Mr. Jordan. And thank you.