Saturday, June 27, 2015

Reviewing Notes

Like the cat in the picture, I am surrounded by texts these days - although many of them are on my iPad. I have been very pleased with how the book side of this blog has been developing in recent weeks, and I hope to push the movie side in upcoming weeks as well. Since I also have to do a lot of paid freelance writing and editing work to stay afloat, and need to put in plenty of hours to find that work, and am also caring for not one but three cats, as well as a ferret and a puppy - well, I am a pretty busy guy. Fortunately, my surroundings here in Queretaro are pleasant and conducive to getting much done.

I am trying, along with everything else, to get more reading done per day than I have in a very long time. Otherwise, my backlog will get incredibly big.

At the moment, I am engaged with books from four sources:

1) Books submitted to me for review. Authors find me primarily through my reviewer listing at The IndieView. They then check out this blog and the Review Guidelines. Most of the writers understand perfectly well what sort of books I am interested in - it's a pretty broad range - and query appropriately. I say "Yes" 80% of the time. (More below on what I turn down.)

2) Books requested by me for review. I am just starting on this, but having success with it.

3) Books found in the special offers listings at eReaderiQ, priced free or close to it. "Free" is hard to resist! I scan the listings carefully for promising titles.

4) The huge world of books I simply want and elect to read.

I switch back and forth every day between books in all of these categories, giving special attention to the first. I have always been a promiscuous reader with a dozen or more titles going at once, so this is nothing new for me.

Even though I have eclectic tastes, the burgeoning realm of independently published and self-published ebooks consists 90-95% of product that I am not particularly interested in. I have to make some categorical decisions about what I will and won't handle, and that means knocking most science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, and YA fiction out of contention immediately, unless a description is exceptionally enticing.

It's not that I dislike good work in any of those genres. It's that the standards within the genres are not very high. In my opinion, independent crime fiction holds itself collectively to a much higher standard than independent science fiction or fantasy does. We could speculate all day about why this is so, but I think it is a glaring fact.

So when someone writes asking that I review the first volume in their planned YA dark dystopian trilogy with fantastically attractive, Hollywood-ready teen protagonists, I am afraid I must beg off. That's when I feel that life is short.

I accepted one first volume in a science fantasy / space opera series early on, read about 30 pages, and then wrote back to the author saying that I wasn't the right reviewer for it. That was a rarity for me, but I couldn't see persisting through all 400 pages.

But reading the 30 pages was instructive. I don't want to get all snarky about it. The book was clearly a cherished project. The author had been working on the construction of her space fantasy universe and its 30+ alien races for a decade, only later getting around to composing the stories that take place within it. This is the way that Tolkien went about his labors on Middle-Earth, too - he created the languages and peoples first, the narratives after.

That worked for Tolkien; he was a genius, after all. This author, not so much. A lot of her expository material is shunted into appendices and footnotes - I can't say as I've ever encountered a footnoted piece of pop fiction before. Tolkien offered appendices, too, but you didn't have to read them in advance to understand what was going on.

But none of that was the real problem. The real problem was this: The author writes from multiple alien points of view, yet the thoughts and the dialogue of these alien characters are all given in contemporary-casual 2015-speak.

From my perspective, this simply will not do, because it represents a total failure to conceive the book linguistically. I would much rather have aggressive faux-medievalism a la William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land or E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros than no attempt to come up with apt language at all.

I don't think this failure is peculiar to this book. I believe it is absolutely widespread even in science fiction and fantasy put out by mainstream publishing houses, let alone all the self-publishers.

Maybe that's why crime fiction comes out ahead. Most of it takes place in our contemporary world, and the current language that is at most crime authors' immediate disposal is adequate for telling those stories.

But fantasy and science fiction are like poetry: they demand more stylistically. And many authors who aspire to write in those genres have, alas, little in the way of stylistic resources.

If your alien races are imaginatively conceived but they sound like Joe down the block, that is not going to fly except for satiric purposes.

No comments:

Post a Comment