So maybe the million plans are actually just a single plan. I’d heard something to that effect, but reading it written out plainly is a bit different. The gap between rumor and fact. Today I finished Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson. You remember, the man with a million plans who writes bricks.
Sanderson starts out this book explaining that all his series (the adult ones at least, I’ve not read any of those for younger audiences) are connected. They, as a whole, are the Cosmere. Based on the diagrams shown, I suppose the Cosmere is a universe and the worlds we know, such as Mistborn, Elantris, etc. are all planets in different solar systems. This is a mindblowing concept, especially when I consider how different all of his magic systems are from each other.
And yet metal seems to play a key role in many of these systems. Or light. Or both? It’s been a while since I reread a number of these books, and not just because I’m patiently waiting for the new entry in the Stormlight Archive. I am not properly prepared to do any in-depth analysis of the different magic systems, so I’ll stop myself there.
Instead, I will point out that this is not the first time I’ve seen authors connect seemingly disparate books. C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe falls into that category when you realize some of the truly bizarre stories that are considered part of it. A lot of Barbara Hambly’s books are different universes connected across the Void. Or there’s most of Anne McCaffrey’s work which is part of the Federated Sentient Planets – and yes, this literally encompasses a ton of her series including Brainships, Dinosaur Planet, Planet Pirates, Crystal Singer…even Pern! I discussed this earlier with my dad (it being Father’s Day after all) and he pointed out Isaac Asimov connecting his Foundation and Robots series (though my dad thinks he did not originally plan to do that when he first started writing them).
Arcanum Unbounded is divided into six sections, each one devoted to a different solar system. The last four systems have only a single story each, which makes sense. The second section has three, but is also the best-known, and thus the one Sanderson’s invested the most published time in. However it’s the first that contains two very different magic systems.
In fact, after reading through the Preface and introduction to the Selish System, as it’s called, I immediately had to decide whether or not I was going to reread as I went through this book. Then I realized what a stupid question that was. How on earth could I refuse an opportunity to reread “The Emperor’s Soul?” I won’t bore you with that, as I’ve already done a more detailed post on it before. Suffice to say, it is probably my favorite of all novellas.
It seems that “The Emperor’s Soul” shares a solar system (or maybe even a planet?) with Elantris an older, single book. From what I’ve seen on his website, Sanderson does intend to add to that story at some point in the future. I could doublecheck his rough dates, but it’s enough to know that there will be more. For the time being, the only addition is “The Hope of Elantris,” a short story that takes place during the novel’s climax. Frankly, I found the background of the story more interesting than the story itself. Sanderson says that his wife, who he was then dating, had a student who did a fabulous book report on the book Elantris. The student, of course, had no idea that the teacher knew the author. Sanderson was so impressed and touched by the amount of effort and love the student had put in, that he wrote this story and named the main character after the kid. It even seems that the original copy of the book report ended up as a wedding present. Really cute and sweet all around.
The second section, the Scadrian System, is the one that made me laugh when I saw the solar system diagram. It’s not often that you see a planet with two different orbits. That’s how I knew it was Mistborn. Here we find three different stories. The first, “The Eleventh Metal,” serves as a prequel to the original trilogy. It takes brash Kelsier and puts him in the role of student in the months after his escape from the Pits of Hasthin. I’d probably care more if I actually liked Kelsier as a person.
The second story here is absolutely hilarious. Entitled “Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania, Episodes Twenty-Eight Through Thirty,” it is the storied bragging of a man who has far too much luck and money to pair with his below average wit. If you’ve read The Alloy of Law, which is the world of Mistborn in their equivalent of our Gilded Age, you may have noticed the newspapers that periodically take up some pages of the book. Allomancer Jak’s adventures are serialized there, to the sensation and entertainment of the paper’s subscribers. I’ll bet they pay him by the word, too.
Last is “Mistborn: Secret History,” and it is by far the most fascinating of the three. It’s not something you could really guess at, like “The Eleventh Metal,” and it’s utterly serious, unlike “Allomancer Jak.” “Secret History” starts to actually explore the concept of the Cosmere in a way that Sanderson hasn’t openly done before, to my knowledge. I also had an “I see what you did there” moment as I realized why the Scadrian System isn’t the first part of this book.
Third is the Taldain System. This is the most bizarre solar system I have ever seen committed to paper. It’s a kind of binary system with a single planet between the two stars. One of those is normal, but the other is a dwarf with a particulate ring that further diffuses what light it may cast. The result is that half of Taldain is always under sun and the other half is always dark. “White Sand” is a story from the dayside, and was apparently released as a graphic novel. I should probably track this down so that I can read it in color one day. On the other hand, the original draft is also included as a more normal story, written instead of illustrated. I think both work fairly well, but the latter does have more detail. That’s no bad thing though, a graphic novel should show its readers, not tell them.
The only story for the Threnodite System is the only other tale I’d previously encountered from this collection: “Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell.” It is still creepy and probably my least favorite of the entire book.
Afterwards comes the Drominad System with its story “Sixth of the Dusk.” Sanderson mentions his fascination with Polynesian cultures, one that the world has come to share of late. After all, what else could have inspired Disney’s Moana? I don’t think it’s a bad thing as long as it’s tastefully done, and not appropriation. I thought it was a great short story, regardless of its context within the Cosmere.
Last is the one that I’m sure helped to sell the book. The Rosharan System is, of course, home to the Stormlight Archive, the epic series that Sanderson will likely be writing for the rest of his life. Don’t believe me? The existing books are both over 1200 pages, and I would guess that the overall story is meant to be at least five or six books long. But that story is just a single arc, or an era, or an epoch of what Sanderson intends for the world as a whole. So when you start to figure out how many very long books it takes for him to tell this story, and consider that Stormlight books will probably only come out every three or more years…yeah. That will be the rest of his life.
It might be faster if not for the million other books and series he writes, but where would be the fun in that? My impression of the man is that he needs a break from a world, and so goes to work on another for a time. Or several others. It’s not a bad way to do it.
Anyway, the story here is called “Edgedancer” and features Lift. She is a former street-thief who now finds herself one of the most influential people in the world…if they don’t look askance at her loose definitions of ownership, among other things. She’s one of the youngest characters glanced at in the bricks of the Stormlight Archive, but thrives on having a story all to herself. Sanderson also hints that she’ll be more important later, and I see no reason to disbelieve him.
I’ll definitely have to get myself a copy of Arcanum Unbounded once it’s available in paperback. Aside from “Shadows for Silence…” which I already knew I didn’t care for, I enjoyed everything I read. Some of the stories were definitely outstanding and I’m glad I had a chance to find them. I’m also pleased that I had already found and devoured the applicable books for those worlds which had been previously published. In fact, the only thing I’ve read from Sanderson that was left out is Warbreaker. Like Elantris, I know that’s one he intends to revisit, but I guess the time hasn’t yet come.