No one can tell you which books you’ll find tasty.
Hi, this is Sarah [Contrary to rumor, yes, still alive. Surgery, Sad Puppies, Social Justice Warrior Attacks, finished a book. The usual] and today we ask “What is good?”
There is more to this than a vague post-modern query. Though the answer when it comes to art might indeed be post modern.
However, it’s important to ask this question and to answer it because part of the criticism leveled at the Sad Puppies movement to get the Hugo awards out of a tiny set of nominees and voters and broaden it to the entire fandom is that “what you nominated is not very good.”
The premise behind it is that the small, self-selected set of fandom-who-attends-cons, aka truefans according to themselves, who tend to be older, more mature, and definitely richer (they have the money to attend cons, the time too) than the majority of just-fans who read and watch the genre, also have more “sophisticated” or “better” tastes.
I’ve heard the same notion from editors (not Baen, duh) who say it is their job to filter all the cr*p and put out the best stuff, so they can train the readers’ tastes.
It is easy to dismiss this premise out of hand – normally I use the word Pfui for such a purpose – but we should look at what’s the root of it and examine the merit of that idea.
Is it possible that older, more experienced people are actually choosing “the best” in the field, be it for publications or awards? Sure.
I mean, your experience of SF/F and how you first came in will change how you perceive quality in the field. For instance, I have yet to be able to make it through a showing of Star Wars, yes, even the first three episodes, without falling asleep. One of these was the re-release where I managed to fall asleep in a theater, for the first and last time ever.
Part of the issue is that when it came out I was already reading science fiction and had been for years. Also, I’m not particularly visual. So my reaction to the special effects was “yawn” because I see better stuff than that in my mind the whole time and my reaction to the plot was “oh, there are so many holes. And it’s predictable. And using really tired concepts. Also, to be fair, and before the Star Wars fanatics among you send someone to assassinate me, I watch very little visual media. In a continuum of modes of amusement, I’m the grumpy critter stuck at “almost all books.”
However, my brother and my husband, both arguably smarter than I, loved Star Wars and consider it one of the touchstones of their fandom. And my brother, ten years older than I, had read at least as many SF/F books as I had.
So, is it quality or not? Well, for me, not. For the guys yes. Is my taste more valid than theirs? Judging by the millions people worldwide who love the movies, no.
In the same way, it’s entirely possible that editors and “truefans” have better taste, but if so, it’s a taste not shared by most fans, as evidenced by how the print runs keep falling, despite exploding interest in SF/F and geekdom.
I mean, maybe their taste really is refined and rarified. If so, it’s a taste formed in a way no one reading for fun shares.
For my sins, I know what their taste is, and if I share their parameters, I can sort of see it.
For my sins? Well, yes, you see, I have a Masters (a little more, actually) in modern languages and literature. And while I didn’t attend an Ivy League in the U.S. as most editors and publishers have, I did attend one of the oldest universities in Europe. (We claimed to be the second. All that and two dollars will get you a cup of coffee. I’m too lazy to research the claim.)
And I learned the same way of evaluating literature that they did. Literature is a way of reflecting the truths of human life. To be more exact, fantastic literature, like SF/F is supposed to reflect back “problems” in modern life and to point out situations that we might otherwise be blind to, and which make our society unjust.
To put it another way, the way they learned to analyze literature was the same way I learned it: literature is supposed to be an utilitarian value, designed to preach (Marxist) values and solutions to society.
Go over any of what is considered “good literature,” especially as reviewed by the “intellectuals” since the early twentieth century, and that’s what you’ll find.
It took me a long time to figure out that this is a load of poppycock. Literature, as appreciated throughout the ages, is appreciated for many reasons, but none of them is stuff like “It talks about racism” or “It points out the heartbreak of the rheumatism of the cleaning woman’s knees.”
It is only in our own time (roughly since early 20th century) that this has become the prevalent way to look at stories. Take Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice is not a magnificent work that analyzes the human soul and the interactions of men and women, no. It’s a work designed to point out the plight of women in Regency England. Or take Romeo and Juliet: it doesn’t perfectly capture the crazy infatuation of teenagers and speak to something universal in the human soul. No, it is supposedly, depending on whom you talk to: a critique of the church, of having your kids raised by nannies, or female oppression (of course) or of armed violence.
Understand, I’m not saying that authors don’t put messages in their stories. Shakespeare was sticking in his marker for kids choosing their partners “for love” (a popular and gaining position in his time, as were most of his positions, actually.) But I very much doubt he was thinking of making it a critique of armed violence. The church? The corrupt friar was a stock character in newly Protestant England.
And that is most of the problem. If we have a way to tell what is good, it is what survives the test of time: what stays with people and speaks to them though language itself change.
And that is highly doubtful of the “good” fiction as picked by the elites today. As they pound points that have been done to death and their characters are often scarecrows designed only to speak cant to imagined power, it is highly likely that future generations will do what we do and go, “Oh, not that again” as they bounce the book off the nearest wall.
So, what is good? Well, I can’t tell you what you’ll find good (how postmodern of me) but I can give you some guidelines on how to find it. But it will have to wait for another post.
For now, we have some links to indie books that perhaps you might find good. [Usual disclaimer applies. I haven’t read most of these, and I don’t know if Charlie has. These are books that were sent to us to promote. Download a kindle sample, and give them a try. Your mileage may vary. Void or restricted where prohibited.]
Remember, tell all your writer friends to send the AUTHOR, TITLE, a SHORT BLURB, and an AMAZON LINK AMAZON LINK AMAZON LINK to email@example.com to be plugged here on PJ Media.
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It really helps if you don’t bother with HTML magic at all, because we just have to parse it apart to put it into the template. The ideal submission is like:
My name as it's on the book cover.
no more than about 100 words.
By L.A. Behm II
Martian Aria tells the tale of mankind’s first steps onto Mars, the adventures of reaching the red planet, and the thrilling discoveries that awaited humanity’s best and brightest when they got there. A tale of rugged colonists, family, kittens, and those who were willing to get their hands dirty in pursuit of a new land, a new home. There is still another frontier, out in the stars, for those who are willing to grasp for it.
By Patrick Freivald
Superhuman strength, unnaturally fast reflexes, enhanced senses – Matt Rowley will live with augmentation for the rest of his life.
As cults spring up worshiping the demonic beings freed by the last of the nephilim, the United States calls on Matt to meet the threat. His unnatural powers returning with every passing day, Matt becomes the only weapon able to withstand forces older than time and darker than the blackest sea.
When his family is taken in an attack on his hometown, Matt falls into a vast conspiracy that could destroy his family and his very soul.
How the Mighty have Fallen
By James Schardt
Short Story. A lawyer witnesses a triple murder while stranded in a rural town. Events quickly escalate. Was it actually murder – or vigilante justice? The local Provost is a former hero turned drunkard in need of redemption. Will they be able to uphold the rule of law and still ensure justice is served?
There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal. – F.A. Hayek
Explore Atlas Shrugged
By Diana Hsieh
Do you want to better understand and appreciate Ayn Rand’s epic novel “Atlas Shrugged”?
“Explore Atlas Shrugged” is an in-depth and newly-expanded study guide by philosopher Dr. Diana Hsieh. It includes over 1400 study questions, plot synopses, character summaries, questions for a book club, and more. (22 hours of engaging chapter-by-chapter podcasts are available online too.)
“Explore Atlas Shrugged” will help you gain fresh insights into the complex events, characters, and ideas of Ayn Rand’s novel — whether you’ve read it just once or a dozen times before.
Harvest Of Evil
By William Lehman
John Fisher, retired Seal and were-cougar, was having just another day at the office. He is a Park Police officer. His office is a Dodge Durango. The dark legends and creatures have always been around, and after the civil rights movement they’re legal. But when someone uses magic or anything else illegally on Federal land, it ‘s John’s job to bring them in. He will use all his skill, luck and connections inside the Supernatural world to get his man, or were, or vampire, or…
By Cedar Sanderson
Sally, whose full name was Alessandra Padilla Rivera, and who had been raised by a grandmama on stories of El Cucuy, the chupacabra, and the jaguar god who hunts in the night, knows how hard good jobs are to find, and keep. She has a mother to support, and a new job to prove herself at. A couple of problems, though… She is working in a morgue where strange things are happening. The only person she can talk to is her boss, her mother just turns the television volume up, and her friends are grossed out by her job. But Sally is convinced her boss isn’t fully human…
By D. Kenton Mellott
My life changed forever on a Friday.
Where are my manners?
My name is Enoch Maarduk.
I simply posted a harmless idea on my blog site–electromagnetic (EM) beings that come to Earth.
Geez, just trying to make a buck.
Then this gun-toting, polyester jacketed, guy shows up at my condo, wanting to know where I got my information.
Then some secret organization wants to recruit me. PHANTASM (Preventing Horrors And Nightmares Through Active Spectrum Monitoring). Hmm…
Artificial intelligence, brainwave scanning, black mambas, ergoline peptide alkaloids, Gilgamesh, the Bell-Curve, EM waves, and a few bad puns.
Best to eat light.
Fledermaus Murphy: Tales from Riverville
By Alma T. C. Boykin
When Fleder Murphy makes a delivery, anything can happen.
Fledermaus “Fleder” Murphy wings and walks through Riverville. Fleder and the Burnt Bean Coffee Shop connect a cast of characters ranging from an aspiring author in search of his mews to a nocturnal landscaper.
Welcome to Riverville, where nothing is quite as it seems, but Murphy’s Law is certain.
By B.A. Sherman
As Greg works the mean streets of Denver, a dark feeling inside of him begins to bubble up. This unexplainable thing, which he tries to keep buried, erupts with full force and with some deep dark strength, it now controls him.