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That Paolini kid (and JK Rowling)

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  • That Paolini kid (and JK Rowling)

    Is anyone bothered by the sudden popularity of mediocre, 3rd rate heroic fantasy that's being churned out for the kid's market at the moment?

    Last week, 'Eldest' the second book in the epic (yawn) trilogy by that Christopher Paolini kid came out (it was also the second most highly marketed and anticipated seller in the kids market, after HP of course). I had a flick through it at work the other day and (I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised) it was pretty much identical to the sort of pedestrian heroic fantasy epics that are 10 a penny on the books shelves of the typical Sci-Fi and fantasy section. The usual Tolkienesque rip-off - dragons, elves, orcs etc. Its amazing what a difference marketing can make - a book that would sink without trace in an already saturated market can become an instant bestseller.

    To be honest it pisses me off a little - that someone can write a passable, derivative story, get it published and sell tonnes more copies than the authors' whos work was plundered to provide the source material.

    I guess it was inevitable that in the wake of the massive phenomenon that is Harry Potter, that other publishers jumped on gravy train looking for a way to make a quick buck.

    Makes me wonder if popular authors would sell a lot more books if their publishers simply aimed their work at the childrens market...
    Batman: It's a low neighborhood, full of rumpots. They're used to curious sights, which they attribute to alcoholic delusions.

    Robin: Gosh, drink is sure a filthy thing, isn't it? I'd rather be dead than unable to trust my own eyes!

  • #2
    Well, whilst desperately trying to avoid whingy blanket statements, the phenomenon reflects the intellectual downgrading of most media: a loss of ambition to challenge, stimulate or even awaken the audience. Birt was right re: 'tabloidisation'. Styles and fashions of literature do evolve and change, of course, but one can hardly imagine Dickens, Austen, Hugo or even Wells being on the bestsellers list now. Too many polysyllables.
    As for TV and visual media, it all went downhill with Tizwaz and that daft bird with the glasses and teeth...it's all the same 'extinction event'.
    On the plus side, the discursive and creative flexibility and spontaneity afforded by the internet (when used by discerning forum-surfers like us) may provide some recourse to intellectual and artistic ambition...

    Comment


    • #3
      Indeed - I suppose publishing is really no different to the pop music or movie industries, it certainly shows the power of marketing to generate sales.

      Paolini's books would doubtless have received only a fraction of the sales and hype (there's a movie deal in the works apparently) if they had been marketed as the generic sort of heroic fantasy they clearly are. Aiming at the childrens market seems to generate these huge $$$$$ sales, quite unrelated to the quality of the author's writing (which is really no better or worse than the usual Terry Brooks, David Eddings effort).

      I mean if kids actually enjoy reading fantasy and sci-fi it seems logical that they would enjoy reading the 'classic' stuff that actually started the genre. Or am I underestimating the power of clever marketing to sell an inferior product to unassuming, undemanding public?

      Just had me wondering whether established author's would make a lot more cash for their pains if the publisher marketed their books at the kids / young adult market. Its not uncommon for a book to sell in two markets simultaneously - I mean it worked with the 'adult' editions of HP, even Orson Scott Card's 'Enders Game' has a Young Adult edition (difference is merely cosmetic - cover's different, text is the same).
      Batman: It's a low neighborhood, full of rumpots. They're used to curious sights, which they attribute to alcoholic delusions.

      Robin: Gosh, drink is sure a filthy thing, isn't it? I'd rather be dead than unable to trust my own eyes!

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by devilchicken
        I mean if kids actually enjoy reading fantasy and sci-fi it seems logical that they would enjoy reading the 'classic' stuff that actually started the genre. Or am I underestimating the power of clever marketing to sell an inferior product to unassuming, undemanding public?
        Some of the classic stuff might be considered a little rough-going for a lot of kids who read these pedestrian books.

        When I think of classic, I think of Dunsany, E. R. Eddison, Cabell and Hope Mirlees's Lud-in-the-Mist. There are some borderline cases such as William Morris, Hodgson, Lovecraft, Howard, and CAS. For sf, I think of the best of people like Wells, Bester, Sturgeon, Bradbury, Wyndham, Clarke, Asimov, Kornbluth, Pohl, Blish, Anderson, and Kuttner. (Even a few earlier books and stories by Heinlein. )

        If you want to extend the notion of "classic" up to the beginning of the fantasy and "Star Warts" boom of the early '70s, you might add Tolkien and the best of the "New Wave" sf people (e.g., Moorcock, Disch, Ballard, Aldiss, Ellison, Silverberg, M. John Harrison, Zelazny).

        All of these guys are entertaining and literate. Would the average reader of the pedestrian stuff buy it? If it were heavily marketed, perhaps up to a point. Would they enjoy it? Your kilometrage will vary. I suspect it wouldn't make a lot of money.

        LSN

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by L_Stearns_Newburg
          When I think of classic, I think of Dunsany, E. R. Eddison, Cabell and Hope Mirlees's Lud-in-the-Mist. There are some borderline cases such as William Morris, Hodgson, Lovecraft, Howard, and CAS. For sf, I think of the best of people like Wells, Bester, Sturgeon, Bradbury, Wyndham, Clarke, Asimov, Kornbluth, Pohl, Blish, Anderson, and Kuttner. (Even a few earlier books and stories by Heinlein. )

          If you want to extend the notion of "classic" up to the beginning of the fantasy and "Star Warts" boom of the early '70s, you might add Tolkien and the best of the "New Wave" sf people (e.g., Moorcock, Disch, Ballard, Aldiss, Ellison, Silverberg, M. John Harrison, Zelazny).
          I think - without really having thought it through of course - that the biggest disadvantage all the writers you cite have is that their novels aren't 'novel'.

          What I mean is that modern marketing/advertising is - and probably has been for 50 years now) always focussing on the 'new'. New things are easy to market by nature of their 'new-ness'. No one has them so you can create a 'need to have' culture so that if you don't have, have't read/seen/heard, etc. Product Z then you're terminally 'uncool'.

          Products that are established, reliable but therefore 'old' are harder to push to a market because you can't rely upon their 'novelty' value alone to sell them. That seems oxymoronical to me personally. You'd think something with a recognised pedigree would be considered 'superior' to something that untried and untested. But current marketing philosophy is to think short-term and squeeze the pips 'til they bleed, then discard them and start all over again with the next Big Thing.

          EDIT: By 'product' I mean the artist/writer/creator, not the artwork/book/film, etc. Obviously The White Wolf's Son is a *new* book, but Mike is a *old* writer, whereas this Paolini chap is 'New' and therefore 'happening'.
          _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
          _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
          _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
          _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

          Comment


          • #6
            This is very likely true. It has been true for many, many years. (That's to say the attitude isn't a recent phenomenon.)

            It is very foreign to my way of thinking, but I recognize what is being done and why.

            When I was a kid, I remember trying hard to search out "quality." It was my general observation as a young reader that books that had been around for a while had something going for them that kept them alive.

            New books are harder to evaluate. I typically do it by speed-reading the first 30-50 pages in the bookstore before making a purchase on a new book by a "new" writer.

            I doubt my attitude is common, of course. :?

            LSN

            Comment


            • #7
              To the classic fantasy list, I should have added Mervyn Peake, of course.

              To the notable writers of the New Wave period, I should have added R. A. Lafferty, for whose best work (no matter how idiosyncratic) I have a definite weakness.

              LSN

              Comment


              • #8
                Well for instance - Tolkien's Lord of the Rings can be found not only in the Fantasy / Sci Fi section of your average book store but in the kids department also. Same also with C.S. Lewis and Orson Scott Card. All of them have 'kids' and 'adult' editions of the books.

                I'm curious to see what will happen when the Elric movie hits the theatres - if it does half as well as LOTR will we be seeing the same kind of phenomenon with the Elric reprints. After all - the studio would want to market to as large a market as possible...

                I just find it interesting that a writer such as Paolini can write and sell a generic, derivative book which is no better or worse (and certainly no different) than the average D&D / GW novelist and it can make millions.

                I guess I'm lamenting the promotion of unoriginal material to a consumer base that clearly demands it. The wheels of capitalist 'consumer choice' march on - if only they knew what they were missing...
                Batman: It's a low neighborhood, full of rumpots. They're used to curious sights, which they attribute to alcoholic delusions.

                Robin: Gosh, drink is sure a filthy thing, isn't it? I'd rather be dead than unable to trust my own eyes!

                Comment


                • #9
                  One experiement I've always wanted to try was to release one of those cookie-cutter fantasies and see it explode in sales and popularity. As much as it would hurt me to write something so derived, the long term goal could actually justify it. The experiement would take place with the continuation of the series (trilogy length minimum). I would slowly strech the formulae over the course of the series, until by the end it is more in line with the variety of writting most of us (I think) prefer. I would like to see people's reactions to slow changes and see how they adapt. Afterwards of course would come the true test: what quality of fantasy/SF do they gravitate towards?
                  "In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro"
                  --Thomas a Kempis

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by EverKing
                    One experiement I've always wanted to try was to release one of those cookie-cutter fantasies and see it explode in sales and popularity. As much as it would hurt me to write something so derived, the long term goal could actually justify it. The experiement would take place with the continuation of the series (trilogy length minimum). I would slowly strech the formulae over the course of the series, until by the end it is more in line with the variety of writting most of us (I think) prefer. I would like to see people's reactions to slow changes and see how they adapt. Afterwards of course would come the true test: what quality of fantasy/SF do they gravitate towards?
                    Interesting idea - reminds me a bit of that cult Patrick McGoohan series "The Prisoner", which everyone 'assumed' at the outset was a conventional cold war spy story. McGoohan surprised (and outraged) the audience who had avidly watched the show with a highly surreal, metaphoric final episode (complete with greek chorus). A mate of mine based his BA dissertation on a study of "The Prisoner and society". There's meaning in the show if you look for it - but people were expecting a finale that appealed to the conventional assumptions about the show that they had built up in their own minds.

                    Great series by the way - if you've not seen it.
                    Batman: It's a low neighborhood, full of rumpots. They're used to curious sights, which they attribute to alcoholic delusions.

                    Robin: Gosh, drink is sure a filthy thing, isn't it? I'd rather be dead than unable to trust my own eyes!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by L_Stearns_Newburg
                      Originally posted by devilchicken
                      I mean if kids actually enjoy reading fantasy and sci-fi it seems logical that they would enjoy reading the 'classic' stuff that actually started the genre. Or am I underestimating the power of clever marketing to sell an inferior product to unassuming, undemanding public?
                      Some of the classic stuff might be considered a little rough-going for a lot of kids who read these pedestrian books.

                      When I think of classic, I think of Dunsany, E. R. Eddison, Cabell and Hope Mirlees's Lud-in-the-Mist. There are some borderline cases such as William Morris, Hodgson, Lovecraft, Howard, and CAS. For sf, I think of the best of people like Wells, Bester, Sturgeon, Bradbury, Wyndham, Clarke, Asimov, Kornbluth, Pohl, Blish, Anderson, and Kuttner. (Even a few earlier books and stories by Heinlein. )

                      If you want to extend the notion of "classic" up to the beginning of the fantasy and "Star Warts" boom of the early '70s, you might add Tolkien and the best of the "New Wave" sf people (e.g., Moorcock, Disch, Ballard, Aldiss, Ellison, Silverberg, M. John Harrison, Zelazny).

                      All of these guys are entertaining and literate. Would the average reader of the pedestrian stuff buy it? If it were heavily marketed, perhaps up to a point. Would they enjoy it? Your kilometrage will vary. I suspect it wouldn't make a lot of money.

                      LSN
                      I have to agree, your're talking pure classic. One of the reasons I've drifted away from SF/Fantasy is the derivative nature of so much modern writing. All the recent books I've read have been history books.
                      Arioch, aid me! Blood and souls for Arioch!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        If I may interrupt.

                        If you'd like to see something other than mediocre, pedestrian rip-offs, then support the small press! Some of us write non-commercial fantasy and science fiction that is shunned by the professional houses (as well as those wanting to be professional houses, i.e. some smaller presses and even e-book companies, unfortunately). It can be difficult to discover new, fresh voices, but we exist.

                        Don't settle for the same old crap. Find the original voices, then let your voices be heard wherever you may go, in person and on the net.

                        I invite you all to try my own unique work, available through my website
                        http://foolsviewstudios.com

                        Original voices are hard to come by (believe me, I know, since I work in a bookstore and have to smile as someone loads up on Eldest, Tanequil, HP, and others).

                        Sorry for the self-promotion, but I'm all I've got. And you'll never forget my work. It's damn good ;)

                        Thanks.

                        Jeff

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I agree that the small presses are often more interesting than the major publishing houses, and certainly publish on average more daring and innovative work.

                          I buy and read a fair amount from small presses (and university presses -- hi, Doc).

                          LSN

                          P.S. Jeff's story in PX-1 was first rate, gritty and visionary.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Recently over at another message board, there was a discussion on self-published works. When I lamented that I hadn't found a commercial publisher for my unique works, some one posted, "You should just write a better book."

                            Seems some folk equate non-commercial fiction with bad writing, and not just something different than the norm. That is unfortunate.

                            I once submitted the story included in PX 1, "Dance of the Harlequin," to an online critque group when I was trying to promote one of my old websites. They couldn't quite grasp the fact that I blended several different mythologies into a cohesive story. It bothered them, in fact.

                            There are some decent writers in the mainstream, don't get me wrong. I need to find some time to "discover" China Mievelle for myself, for instance. Unfortunately when a Thomas Ligotti or someone truly unique comes along, there is never enough mainstream support for them to continue.

                            Sometimes I wish I had been old enough (or born) back when the commercial houses were actively seeking such cutting edge fiction. Perhaps the cycle will come around again... but I don't see it in the marketplace.

                            Jeff

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              A very successful collaborative partnership *and* self-publishing venture can be found in the Canadian comic book, Cerebus the Aardvark by Dave Sim and Gerhard.

                              As most people may know (esp. as Dave Sim created a significant caricature of Elric for the comic) Sim was the original writer and artist of the 300-issue series, but somewhere around the #60s found Gerhard to assist him on the backgrounds for the artwork, thus enabling him to keep to a (more or less) monthly schedule.

                              The breakdown of work was something like, Sim wrote each script and then drew all the characters before handing the pages over to Gerard who then drew all the backgrounds. Sim then lettered the finished pages. Since the product was a joint-effort, copyright in the jointly-completed pages/issues is shared equally between Sim and Gerhard.

                              The collaboration is remarkable because the guys didn't fall out of the many years they worked together and the actual artwork is amazingly seamless.

                              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerebus_the_Aardvark
                              _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
                              _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
                              _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
                              _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

                              Comment

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