The epic marathon reading of Brandon Sanderson continues – the latest to fall before my hungry eyeballs were the first two 1000+ page novels of The Stormlight Archive – which leaves The Alloy of Law as the last Cosmere universe novel I still need to read before being caught up.
Reading the various novels by Brandon Sanderson back-to-back like this focuses my attention on one of the parts to his writing that amazes me that might otherwise go unnoticed or under-appreciated. That is, how well he can create a magic system for each novel/franchise that is completely different from all his other novel/franchises, detail how it works, explore the societal and personal ramifications of this magic system, and show how the various characters can work around the limitations of the magic system to solve problems. This feat of writing excellence was on my mind as I recently finished Darker Than Black.
And not in a good way.
Darker Than Black, like many other “plot heavy” anime series set in a world that’s radically different from the real world, suffered immensely because the creators never felt the need to actually explain how the world, it’s people, and organizations differed from the real world. I know all the “How-to” books tell writers not to put infodumps in their literary works but that information still needs to be put in the book/TV series/movie; you can’t just skip it.
In the case of Darker Than Black I spent the entire series – literally right into the last episode – trying to figure out and understand basic components of the setting and I’m still not sure I actually truly understand it all. This is bad writing. I shouldn’t be asked to puzzle the series together like this – this is a plot-driven drama, not a mystery. A couple of infodumps at the beginning probably would have greatly increased my ability to like this series. (Or better yet, work this knowledge in gently over the first few episodes.)
Brandon Sanderson actually has something to say on this topic. He calls it Sanderson’s First Law and it goes like this:
An author’s ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.
The magic in Darker Than Black was never really explained thus the series could not satisfactorily solve it’s conflicts. Coupled with emotionless slabs of meat for characters – the series takes great pains to explain those with superpowers are “Contractors” and they’re logical and emotionless people – and there’s not much for the audience to latch onto and compel us to keep watching. There’s two more series to this franchise and I’m not even slightly interested in continuing.
It’s series like this that remind me why I watch so many school age, comedy series; namely, I’m probably never going to catch one that is earth shatteringly good but there’s a lower bound to them that all but guarantees that they won’t be complete waste of time, like so many failed “serious” dramas are.