Wednesday 19 April 2023

Faith and blame.

I read a very angry blog post today wherein an author takes George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss to task for allegedly eroding the faith of readers in series. He describes them both as "apathetic sacks of shit with zero work ethic".

Before continuing, let me say that I am not here to critise Martin or Rothfuss. I know from my involvement in Wild Cards that GRRM keeps very busy and has many projects on the go. This blog post concerns the idea presented in the aforemention opinion piece, namely that a small number of high profile delays in series have harmed the prospects of many hardworking authors who sell far fewer books.

First let's look at a few of the usual suspects.

I've included Alan Garner's Tales of Alderley books there for fun. Nobody (to my knowledge) was expecting a third book after The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, but 49 years later we got Boneland!

Again - this post is not about the "whys" of these delays, just the consequences. There are many valid reasons for not writing a book. Most people go their whole lives without writing one. Mental health is a perfectly valid and understandable reason for not being able to finish a writing project, and I don't just mean the big headlines like DEPRESSION here - writing books is an entirely mental endeavor and relatively small issues can cause writers' block.

To claim that these authors are lazy or sacks of shit on the basis of these delays is clearly ridiculous.

What is true - and I've blogged about it myself - is that the "I'm not starting that until it's finished" attitude has become hardwired into a certain portion of the fantasy readership. I've had readers tell me that about my books on many occasions, despite me always finishing my trilogies before the first book hits the shelves, and despite producing this lot in the last 12 years:

and at no point falling below one book per year.

It is, among some readers, a meme / badge of honour / show of their own cleverness to tell an author trying to launch book 1 of a trilogy or series, "Yeah, I'm not starting that until they're all out."

However, I am far from convinced that all of this, or even a large portion of it, can be laid at the feet of a small number of high profile authors suffering (and yes, obviously it hurts them more than it hurts you personally) delays.

And here's why: Three important things have happened (or substantially ramped up) during the 12 years many have been waiting on Winds of Stone and/or Doors of Winter.

i) The sheer number of books being published each year has exploded.

Currently there are around 11,000 books published ... each fucking day!

Up to 90% of those are self-published. But even if you were to stick to traditional publishing (you shouldn't) that's well over a 1000 books a day. And a decent chunk of those are fantasy books. I won't read another 1,000 books even if I live into my 90s.

So, one of the main things I see people who are being bombarded with all this choice doing is finding reasons not to read a book. All manner of silly excuses are used to trim the field without putting any effort into the process. An unfinished series is a pretty handy reason. It doesn't have to be because GRRM is taking his time on WoW - it can be because given the choice of an unfinished series and a gazillion finished ones ... why not?

ii) Streaming services have exploded, and the content on them has multiplied almost without bound. You can fill your televisual needs entirely with complete series. A binge culture has been created. There has to be a god-like level of buzz for anyone to wait on a new episode each week these days. Most people just watch a different series and then when the whole of a new series is out - binge it in chunks of whatever size suits them.

This same mindset now reaches out into the book world. It's disappointing but hardly surprising. And again, it's unreasonable to lay this at George Martin's feet. It's easy to do that - sure - but the easy explanation doesn't have to be the right one.

iii) This is really just point i) & ii) wrapped together with all the other new diversions on offer to us these days, from Youtube, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and all the other socials, to better more immersive video gaming, and everything else. It's hard to find time to read. There's much much more than you could ever read, so any plausible excuse is handy when it comes to cutting down those options.

In short: 

i) Authors who delay a book in a series, be it for 10 years, or 50, or forever, are not lazy sacks of shit.

ii) The high profile authors who have delayed may be cited in some cases as a reason for readers not picking up a newly published book 1 -- but I feel the reasons behind that reluctance are far deeper and considerably wider than two or three writers, however well known. Some portion of the reason (I do not say blame) may reside with them, but I think this would be happening even if book 3, 4, & 6 had turned up a year or two after their predecessors.

iii) It's easy to give the reason for this problem a face - someone to call an apathetic sack of shit. It's human nature to want a simple answer and a person to blame. But it's more complicated than that.

Readers - have faith in your writers, that faith will be overwhelmingly rewarded. And when it's not - the only thing that author has done is disappointed you, not tanked the entire publishing industry.


Saturday 15 April 2023

Shelfish Opinions 3 - Bs & Cs

Shelfish Opinions: 3 - The B's & Cs!

Continuing the Youtube theme - making these videos is also giving me blog material.

Previous Shelves here: 1 (A's) 2 (B's)

I decided that I would move on from critiquing people's writing to critiquing people's writing, but now the writing is whole books, and the critiquing is cursory opinion, and the selection is made by my (mostly) alphabetised shelves.

Since I have a great many fantasy shelves, this could be a new recurring feature that will hit dozens of episodes.

Let's see how it goes.

Imma present one shelf at a time and just talk my way through the titles there, saying if I've read the book and briefly, what I thought of it. It's worth noting that I'm not responsible for the purchase/acquisition of the majority of the books on our shelves. My wife's an avid fantasy reader, and my children have been also at various points in their lives.

It's worth noting that I'm revisiting a few of these books as extra As and Bs have pushed titles further down the shelf. I would have avoided repetition, but only noticed when I was mostly done with this post 😆.

So there they are, the glorious Bs/Cs of shelf 3. Let's take a closer look!

There's The Daylight War, book 4 of Peter Brett's Demon Cycle quintology, and an ARC of book 5, "The Core". I'm not great at following series. I'm such a slow reader that I often stop at book 1 in favour of exposing myself to a greater variety of writing. But I've met Peat a few times, he was very nice to a new writer (me), and I like him, so I went through all five of these. Another reason I cry off long series is that I feel quality tends to decline, and some jump the shark. Also maybe my attention span is suited to standalones and trilogies - it's certainly what I write. I did have fun with the books, but my favourite was definitely in numerical order, with book 1 being the best for me.

Following the Bretts are six graphic novels (New England Gothic, Hopeless Maine - Sinners, The Oddatsea, Hopeless Maine - Victims, Hopeless Maine - Personal Demons, Hopeless Maine - Inheritance) by artist Tom Brown with the story by Nimue Brown. I've met these guys too and they were early supporters of my writing. I'm a fan of Tom's art and the hauntingly odd stories darkly presented in these graphic novels. I even wrote a story in the setting, read here on youtube.

After that we have six books by Orson Scott Card. I read Capitol first, many decades ago. This book has 373 Goodreads ratings compared to 1.3 million for Ender's Game. The other Card books on shelf 3 are Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, Shadow Puppets, Xenocide,  & Speaker For The Dead. I'm a big fan of Ender's Game and have read all of these ... possibly running out of steam in Shadow Puppets. I don't agree with OSC's views on homosexuality, but none of that reaches the page (that I noticed) and I've enjoyed his fiction. It was also cool to see him review The Broken Empire very favourably.

The Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R Carey, is excellent. I won't spoil it, but read that. There's a related book I need to get and read. I know nothing about Rotherweird. Of the three books there by Canavan: The High Lord, The Novice, & The Magician's Guild I've only read book 1, Guild. It's over 20 years old and maybe I would have liked it more if I'd read it another 20 years before that. I found it OK but rather generic and lacking in excitement. I won't be reading on.

I've not read The Spider, or The Wolf by Leo Carew and know nothing about them. They're books 1 and 2 in a series and came out about 5 years ago. Noticeably absent here is The Way of Edan, by Philip Chase. That's because the ARC I have is a large A4 print out that won't fit the shelves. I did like the story a lot though. Seraphina's Lament is by Sarah Chorn who I've known for years online and who was the first to sign up to help out with the SPFBO. I did start the book but didn't finish. Sarah's writing is for me rather like Janny Wurts' prose - which has a large following. It's something I can enjoy in small bites but struggle with on the large scale.

Return of the Daud & The Corroded Man, by Adam Christopher are not books I've read. They came out in the twenty-teens and since then he's written some Stranger Things fiction. I read the highly acclaimed Piranesi last year after really liking the Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel TV series based on her more famous book. I was less impressed than most people seem to be, but the prose was very good and the book got off to a fascinating start.

Ready Player One hit all the right buttons for me as a teenager of the 80s into video games and D&D. I've never understood how it did so well with people of other generations and interests. Ready Player Two seems to have been poorly received. On Goodreads book 1's average of 4.23 slips to 3.43 for book 2.

And finally, Seeds of Earth and Shadowkings by Michael Cobley are not books I've read. Scifi from 14 years ago and fantasy from 22 years ago respectively. 3.42 and 3.14 repectively on Goodreads.