Monday, 17 September 2007

Very Sad News

James Oliver Rigney, Jr., better known to millions of readers as Robert Jordan, passed away yesterday at 2.45pm EST. He was 58 years old. He had been battling cardiac amyloidosis since being diagnosed with the disease eighteen months ago, and many of his fans had donated money to the Mayo Clinic at Rochester, Minnesota (where he was being treated), in his name.

James Oliver Rigney, Jr. was born on 17 October 1948 in Charleston, South Carolina. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the US Army and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross with bronze oak leaf cluster, the Bronze Star with "V" and bronze oak leaf cluster and two Vietnamese Gallantry Crosses with palm. He later attended the Citadel, the military college of South Carolina, where he received a degree in physics. He was then employed by the US Navy as a nuclear engineer.

He began writing in 1977, but decided early on to use his real name only on the 'definitive' novel of the Vietnam War he one day planned to write (he later chose not to pursue this project after other books about the conflict had emerged). Using the pen-name Reagan O'Neal, his first published work was The Fallon Trilogy, consisting of The Fallon Blood (1980), The Fallon Pride (1981) and The Fallon Legacy (1982), originally published by Ace Books but later reissued by Tor under the Forge imprint. This was a historical series set in South Carolina and southern states in the 18th Century and charted the life story of an Irish immigrant, Michael Fallon, and his family.

Rigney switched to the pen-name Robert Jordan to pen a series of fantasy novels set in Robert E. Howard's Hyborean Age and revolving around Howard's signature character, Conan the Barbarian. He wrote six original novels and a novelisation of the second Conan movie. These were: Conan the Invincible (1982), Conan the Defender (1982), Conan the Unconquered (1983), Conan the Triumphant (1983), Conan the Magnificent (1984), Conan the Destroyer (1984) and Conan the Victorious (1984). These books were later compiled as The Conan Chronicles and Further Chronicles of Conan. He also compiled a chronology of the Conan stories in 1987.

Whilst working on these books, Jordan was also creating his own fantasy story and world to set it in. He conceived of some of the ideas as early as the late 1970s, but didn't begin writing the book that eventually became The Eye of the World until 1985. It was a very tough book to write and the entire world, plot and protagonists shifted several times in the writing process. It was published in February 1990 by Tor Books, preceded by an impressive publicity campaign. Despite the delays on the first book, Jordan very quickly delivered the successive five novels in The Wheel of Time series before dropping back to a more sedate pace of one book every two to three years.

The Wheel of Time became an international bestseller, with every volume from the seventh onwards debuting at Number One on the New York Times bestseller list.. At this time only works by JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling, Stephen King, CS Lewis and Terry Pratchett have outsold the series in the fantasy genre. Despite his enormous commercial success, Jordan found critical acclaim harder to come by, and the series has never won any of the major SF or Fantasy awards. Critical reception to the seventh through tenth volumes was mixed, but that for the eleventh volume in the series, Knife of Dreams, was highly positive as the series moved towards its conclusion. John Clute's Encyclopedia of Fantasy also gave the series a warm review, stating that "a sense of an intelligent creative enterprise is sustained throughout the sequence," and, "when complete, the sequence will almost certainly constitute one of the major epic narratives of modern fantasy".

Jordan was diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis in early 2006, and announced it to his fans in May of that year. Despite often highly uncomfortable and painful treatment, he continued working on the twelfth and final novel in the series, A Memory of Light, until he passed away. Aware of his condition, he prepared more detailed notes than usual for the novel and discussed its plot with his wife Harriet and cousin Wilson, who posted to the website with updates and messages when Jordan was too ill to do so. The fate of the final novel is unclear at this time, but it is likely it will see print in some shape or form.

Jordan was a keen fan of literature in many different genres, but was more than happy to use his popularity to give other fantasy writers he enjoyed a good boost in sales through endorsements and blurbs. George RR Martin, author of the series A Song of Ice and Fire, has stated that he believes Jordan's endorsement of the first novel contributed to its sales. Jordan also approved of the works of Mike Ford (who himself passed away last year) and J.V. Jones.

The success of Jordan's series is widely believed to have opened the doors for subsequent fantasy series that were longer than the traditional trilogy. It is arguable that writers such as George RR Martin, Scott Lynch and Steven Erikson would have found a willing publisher to handle their lengthy series if Jordan had not blazed a trail there first. For that, his influence on the field of fantasy must be acknowledged.

Condolences to his family and friends.

The news of his passing was announced on here.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor Books has commented on Robert Jordan's passing here.

As has George RR Martin here.

A brief comment by Diane Duane.

Scott Lynch, Neil Gaiman and Brandon Sanderson have also commented on Robert Jordan's passing.

John Clute, arguably SF&F's most famous critic and editor of three editions of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and one of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, speaks very positively of RJ's contribution to epic fantasy here:

Robert Jordan's wife Harriet speaks here.

Robert Jordan's stepson Will pays tribute to his stepfather here.

And the local press.

The Wheel of Time Series
1: The Eye of the World (1990)
2: The Great Hunt (1990)
3: The Dragon Reborn (1991)
4: The Shadow Rising (1992)
5: The Fires of Heaven (1993)
6: Lord of Chaos (1994)
7: A Crown of Swords (1996)
8: The Path of Daggers (1998)
9: Winter's Heart (2000)
10: Crossroads of Twilight (2002)
11: Knife of Dreams (2005)
12: A Memory of Light (forthcoming)

The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time (1997, with Teresa Patterson)
New Spring: A Wheel of Time Novel (2004)
The Wheel of Time Encyclopedia (a planned collaboration with his wife, Harriet MacDougal)

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