Sunday, April 10, 2011

Genres I'd like to see more of

Everyone knows the genres that are currently popular, and the genres that are guaranteed to contain a hit book that everyone reads. Romance novels or thriller novels never lose their readership, and the fantasy fans never give up on it. And no matter how many YA books are published, there will never be a lull in their readership.
But this isn't about those books. This post is about the genres that don't get written as often, for whom an audience may exist but has little to go on. Sometimes there are niche publishers dedicated to these genres-and sometimes there aren't.
First, I'd like to see more genre novels with GLBT relationships. And I don't mean romance novels, because that exists-there is an entire E-publisher that specializes in gay romance. I mean a gay or lesbian relationship handled in an otherwise science fiction or fantasy novel. The only examples I can think of, aside from the books I have written, are the books by J.L Langley, the NightRunner series by Lyn Flewelling, the Island in the Sea of Time series by S.M Stirling, and of course the Magic's Price trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. There are others, I'm sure, but the point I am making is that there are comparatively few, and I feel that this is something that should be remedied. Just because a reader may want to read about a gay relationship doesn't mean they want to limit themselves to romance novels. And for female readers, books with gay relationships are a great way to avoid the annoying female character stereotypes that dog fantasy, and especially science fiction, novels.
Second, I want to see more historical fiction, and especially more prehistoric fiction. The success of Jean Auel's Earth's Children series shows that there is a market for novels like these. The books by William Sarabande and Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear, both of which take place in prehistoric North America are also worthy reads. There is really no issue of lack of an audience with this type of writing. The problem with this genre, of course, is that it not only takes imagination, but it takes research, and thus is harder to write.
Third, would also like to see more science fiction in general, as I talked about last post, but more specifically I would like to see the human sides of science fiction addressed, as per cyberpunk novels. Many science fiction books have characters who are barely archetypes, and character development is sacrificed for plot (or cheap sex). Much can be done with looking at the effects of technology, or space living, or the apocalypse, on the human psyche. Why don't I see more of it?
And last, I want to see more horror novels that aren't written by Stephen King and aren't thinly veiled vampire romance stories. Horror novels can take a typical plot progression and twist it, so that a story of someone going out to seek adventure turns into the story of that person being manipulated and lied to, until their personality changes and they fail at their goal. It would seem plotless until you realize that their change is the plot. Some may call it torture porn, but reading about someone's failure to thrive can be as fascinating as reading about their success. It's like hurt/comfort without the comfort, and if done right can be a wonderful character study. Exactly what would it take to change a person?
I've noticed that a few people have been reading my blog (hooray!) Do any of you have any genres you'd like to see more of? Or on the flipside, do any of you have genres you can't stand?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Annoying things I see in published novels

These probably aren't annoying to everyone, and obviously  aren't things that gets a book rejected from an agent or editor. Most are small issues, and maybe editors miss them completely, or don't see it as a problem. But some of these things drive me right up the wall. 
“I'm just here to be pretty” syndrome. This is the absolute worst offense an author can make, in my opinion. I've read books with crappy plot, books with grammatical errors and tons of typos, that didn't piss me off as much as this does. What is it? It's the introduction of a character who we only see described physically. This is always female-apparently there is some innate bias toward describing women in terms of their appearance. The author suddenly goes from a gritty, understated style of writing into a flowery, nearly purple prose style as they describe the female character's beauty, and how she affects the protagonist. Meanwhile, no other character is described physically save for a few sentences here and there. I don't want to name names, but several authors I've read fall into this trap, and it's not only male authors, either. Every female character in their books is described physically, while no male character gets the same treatment. Apparently male characters' personalities and motivations matter, but female characters only need to look good to be seen as interesting characters. This also leads into the next complaint. 
“Unnecessary character” syndrome. This is when the author throws in a character that doesn't really serve a purpose, except to somehow make the story seem more well rounded in the author's eyes. These are usually (again...) female characters that are there to be the hero's love interest, and who don't really do anything except serve as some sort of humanizing agent on the main character. Apparently every hero needs a damsel to offset him, but plotwise they have no purpose at all. It's also bad when I see female characters thrown in an all male cast, if only because the author must have felt that the book needed one. If you don't want to write a female character, or your story doesn't need one, then just don't do it! 
Fanservice. This term comes from the anime fandom, and refers to scenes in the anime that do nothing and serve no purpose except to titillate the audience. It's usually stuff like panty shots or boob shots. In published novels it usually takes the form of an unnecessary sex scene, or a sudden switch in focus from something really cool, like exploring prehistory, to something incredibly out of place, like a man's version of lesbian romance. Not naming names. 
Filler. Another term from the anime fandom, referring to useless scenes. These aren't meant to titillate as much as they are meant to take up space. Published novels typically don't have too much of this, but a few I've seen, especially the longer, bestselling series, have scenes that serve no purpose other than verbal masturbation by the author. Sometimes it takes the form of a ton of detail that no on really cares about, other times it's an action scene or a discussion between two characters that only reiterates something that's already been established. Sometimes it has good intentions, like extra worldbuilding, but if it doesn't advance the plot then it's probably filler. 
“Trying too hard to characterize” syndrome. This is when an author doesn't really know how to get their character across the way they want to, and it comes off as forced. Maybe their editor told them their character needed more development or something, but suddenly you have a character using speech patterns that no sane person would, or making decisions that make no sense. They are less a character and more of an archetype, slamming the reader over the head with their “uniqueness.” Most of the time it's characters written by an author of the opposite gender that suffer the most, and in an attempt to break away from cliches the female characters are incredibly tomboyish or masculine to the point that it becomes obvious the author doesn't know how girls really act. On the flipside,  the male characters will act either ridiculously aggressive and out of control, or completely effeminate. It can also happen when someone is trying to write a character from a very different background. Most authors who do this are at least trying to create a character, but their lack of experience limits them. 
That's all for now. I'll probably think of more in the future. Like with any form of entertainment, the more I sample from it the more cynical and judgmental I get.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Genre Popularity and the Death of Science Fiction Novels

I have a rating system for books or book series within genres, that I developed from reading a ton of fantasy. The grades are A, B, and C. I'll use fantasy as an example since that's what I've read the most of.
A+ to A- rank books or book series are the ones that are not only written well and are bestsellers in their genre, but get attention from those who don't ordinarily read that genre. Good examples of A rank fantasy books are the Song of Ice and Fire books, Tokien, the Eragon books, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel. Some A- book series are things like Wheel of Time and Sword of Truth, which get a ton of recognition. Every fantasy fan knows them.
B ranked books are books that are written really well, and known by most fans of the genre, but generally go unnoticed by those who aren't into the genre. Any book by Tad Williams is a good example of this, as are books by Robin Hobb. Mercedes Lackey also falls into this category, if only squeaking out of C because of the sheer volume of what she's written.
C ranked books are books that may have writing issues, or are only known by about 50 percent of the genre's fanbase. A good example of these in fantasy are the RuneLords novels, or books by Melanie Rawn.
So, how does this relate to Sci Fi? Because there are very few A ranked science fiction series out there. Dune is A ranked, but is old. Same problem with Asimov's works and Heinlein's works. They were huge-in their time. I can't think of a contemporary science fiction writer who can be put in the A category. Bova is close, but his writing isn't big outside of the genre's fans. C.S. Friedman is also close, but she also writes fantasy and her most popular series is a fantasy series. There aren't even that many B ranked books in science fiction. In fact, there aren't that many science fiction series out there at all-the Fantasy and Sci Fi section section at my local borders is way more fantasy than sci fi. There are more comics than science fiction novels.
So what's changed? What has made science fiction less accepted? For one thing, the trend towards explaining theoretical ideas has seemed to stop in newer science fiction works, which makes it seem far less like science fiction. The line between fantasy and sci fi is blurred to all hell. Amazon, for example, calls a vampire novel set in modern times a science fiction book in my recommendations. The last book I remember reading that had  a viable theory in was the Ringworld saga, which contained an explanation of the five body orbital solution.
When I try to write science fiction, I feel the need to explain everything about my setting. Older books did this, to an extreme-take War With the Newts, for example. The author explained everything about the fictional newt society, from their anatomy to their mating habits, like it was a zoological study. I found this enjoyable to read and fascinating.
Then in college, I had a professor who told me straight up that people don't care about that sort of thing anymore. It would only bore them.
I've tried to take that advice, but sometimes I fall into the trap of wanting to explain how something works. There must be a way to bring in scientific explanations without boring the hell out of your readers. It might just be that your intended audience changes. Ringworld isn't a widely read book, though it is widely read among sci fi enthusiasts. (Of course, I didn't actually like it much because the characters were underdeveloped, but that's unrelated.) And as far as I know, War with the Newts was widely read in it's time, though it was also a satire of current world events.
In short, we need more science fiction novels. A lot of short stories are science fiction, not to mention movies and TV shows. Perhaps people just don't like the novel as a medium for it.
But at least it leaves the door open for something new. There is a lot of potential in science fiction, and I encourage people looking for new ideas to explore in that direction.