Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sameness Screed

     I have had it with the repetition of the Same Old Motifs in speculative fiction. Space wars. Time travel. Vampires. Werewolves. Witches. Zombies. Great God in heaven, zombies!

     Those elements are all used up. There’s no BLEEP!ing tread left on them. Recourse to them as the tendons and ligaments of a novel indicates that the author lacks imagination. And why do we read speculative fiction? FOR IMAGINATION AND ORIGINALITY!

     And I don’t BLEEP!ing care who’s sold a metric ton of books about vampires, werewolves, zombies, et cetera ad nauseam infinitam. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, as the financial gurus will tell you.

     Larry Correia has supposedly made a mint with his Monster Hunter novels – he’ll tell you that at the slightest opening – but after I’d read three of those novels, they began to bore me terribly. (His “Dead Six / Exodus” collaborations with Mike Kupari are far more original and interesting.) So “I’ve sold a lot of books along those lines” fails as an argument that you, newly fledged indie writer, should try to do the same.

     But it seems that no one is attempting anything genuinely original. And no, putting a romantic thread into a book wrapped around a worn-out motif doesn’t make it original.

     Please pardon me, Gentle Reader. Yesterday I came to the end of my unread-books stack, a terrifying event here at the Fortress of Crankitude. So I went to Amazon and called up its “Recommended for you” list...and every BLEEP!ing recommendation was for a space war or an urban fantasy about werewolves or vampires.

     Enough! Enough! I say. I’ll purchase no more derivative, imitative crap! Nor will I tolerate it from an indie on the grounds that “I’ve got to establish myself.” You went indie to be free of the constraints of Pub World; why are you catering to their dictates like one of their slaves?

     Speculative fiction should question; invent; speculate. Fiction that reuses worn out motifs doesn’t qualify. And before you ask: Yes: The same applies to video games.

     I have spoken.


David Smith said...

Congratulations! You have posted something provocative enough to bump me out of Stealth Mode...

I eagerly await release of your genuinely-original-motif-based speculative novel, or even Chapter 1 of same if you prefer to go that route, and, given enough indication that it's not only genuinely original, but also promising, I'll buy a copy, read it, and give it an honest review on Amazon.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Geez, David, why wait? Go buy a copy of Chosen One, Which Art In Hope, or Priestesses. They're cheap enough.

One of the reasons I produce novels rather slowly is that I insist on making them expositions on original ideas. Otherwise, I'd probably be able to turn them out considerably faster. Not instantaneously, mind you; quality work takes time and effort. But I probably wouldn't allow two years to lapse between books.

David Smith said...

OK, that's fair. It seems that most of the Curmudgeonly Curmudgeons that I follow online are authors, so I'm a bit backed-up (although I'm retired now and have nothing to do all day), but I accept the challenge.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Oh, everyone's an author, these days. All it takes is a word processor and an Internet connection. That's part of the problem, really. Remember Sturgeon's Law? Well, when it comes to indie fiction, the crud fraction is a lot higher than 90%.

Wading through the sewage at low cost has become the major obstacle to those who would otherwise enjoy the Indie Revolution.

Malatrope said...

Fran, I feel your pain, but I believe you misunderstand the motivations of the average reader, who doesn't or cannot think to the level of comprehending that something is original. Most read purely for entertainment, and for most that doesn't mean giving themselves a headache trying to wrap their poor, sodden brains around new concepts. They are easily lost, and being confused pisses them off.

Most people (ourselves not included) read for the same reason they eat macaroni and cheese. Fiction is comfort food and a way to pass the endless hours between one self-caused disaster in their lives and the next. Authors who get rich understand that they are producing gravel to fill the empty spots in their customers' minds – not enriched soil in which to plant trees.

How many different plots, for instance, has the undoubtedly well-off Dean Koontz written? Three? But you can rest assured that if you buy one of his books it will give you ten hours lost in a world that is far away from your own miserable existence. Don't even get me started on the pretentious Stephen King.

The general reading public has a visceral dislike of "going back to school", and erudite, grammatically-correct dissertations triggers them. They will throw down the book in disgust and never buy anything you write again.

The first Harry Potter book was okay, vaguely entertaining. Was there a need for several more? No, but the public got comfortable with the characters and the predictable tale. And Ms. Rowling's bank account got bigger and bigger.

The endless sword-and-sorcery fantasy universes? Same thing. I will not read anything by George R. R. Martin because it is mindless drivel packaged for the predictable masses.

You have to choose, Fran, between being successful financially and whoring yourself out to the crap factory line, or being recognized as a genius fifty years after you get comfortable in your grave. Very, very few authors manage to be recognized as brilliant and get popular enough to quit their day jobs.

I happen to like your writing for its ideas, but for the general public I'm afraid it's too "turgid". You may be familiar with the essayist Glenn Fairman, who writes occasionally for American Thinker. Analyze what wrong with his prose, and note how the two of you may have a similar approach.

And snap up the dialogue! People don't speak in long, complete sentences. Your average reader will go to sleep before they get to a period. Tell the story from the characters' points of view, mostly in their words. In descriptive passages, use more verbs than nouns, draw everything in terms of forces not positions. Let the reader see the motion that results by their own thought process.

If you want financial success, study the following authors and don't ever do anything like they did except plot: Melville. Hemingway. Steinbeck. LeCarre. Dickson. Van Vogt. Asimov.

The list of authors that could connect with a wide audience is long, but I'll represent it by one example that should make the point. Alexei Panshin is an insufferable critic of Bob Heinlein. His work is generally miserable. To make his point that anybody could write a novel like the Dean of Science Fiction, he dashed off Rite of Passage and tossed it into the water. Lo and behold, it was his best work! I'm not sure he ever understood the irony of that – or learned a damned thing from the experience.

Okay, okay, here endeth the epistle. As far as my opinions go, remember the immortal line in Monty Python's Holy Grail: "It's only a model!"

daniel_day said...

"a way to pass the endless hours between one self-caused disaster in their lives and the next"
Malatrope, get out of my head. Now. I'm pointing a gun at you. Out.

Malatrope said...


*backs away slowly*
*raises shields*


Jack Imel said...

Hey, Francis... you need to write more of these "provocative" pieces... they dredge up lots of lines of literary commentary. It makes for interesting reading for us writers who ain't authors.

Anonymous said...

I too feel your pain. Time was when I'd travel I loved to go into the airport/train station/bus station bookstore and browse the selection for a good travel read. Nowadays it is nearly all tripe. Book 1,000 in the series about super stud guy/gal, or the drivel you ranted about. I foolishly bought an SK book recently and it was OK but nowhere near his past work. And the ending was horrible. You could just tell he either didn't know how to end it, was on deadline to submit, and/or hit the magic number of words and wanted to end it. Very disappointing. In my latest venture I was reduced to buying collected short stories of AC Clarke. Not a bad read but it is a sad commentary on the current state of fiction that one must go back to 'classics' to get a good read. Thankfully I still have the list of classics from my AP English class from the 80's so now I can look for some of those I have not yet read.
Sadly the general lack of quality in anything recently is also evident in fiction.