Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sturgeon's law

While on the topic of the book fair, I have to say that as much as I love browsing through the books and finding gems, it is also one of the moments that produce a certain sense of alienation from the majority of humanity in me. The only other moment that parallels it is "standing in front of the magazine rack in a supermarket".

As far as I am concerned, there are generally no more than two to three journals in the average magazine rack that one could reasonably count as a loss if somebody were to torch the lot. In fact, not only would there be no loss to the wealth and welfare of humanity if titles like "Kim Kardashian's new bikini body" or "Nicole Kidman's relationship crisis", most of them blatantly invented anyway, went up in flames, but burning the paper to generate energy would be considerably more productive than using it to print this kind of dreck. And people are actually wasting hard-earned money on all of it.

Similarly, I cannot help but observe, as I look across the dozens of tables in the book fair, that there are entire sections on astrology and "alternative medicine". These kinds of books have only one goal, and that is to make their readers more ignorant and less capable of critical thought. (You might argue that the ultimate goal is to sell, okay. But they will only sell if they first achieve the goal I mentioned. A swindler first has to swindle, only then can they extract money.) In a way it is, of course, nice to see them being sold again for a few bucks to finance a crisis hotline, but there is no way around the fact that as long they are in circulation some of these works will continue to harm gullible people by getting them to rely on snake oil and forgoing real treatment for their illnesses.

As for fantasy and science fiction novels, there are so many crappy books out there that it is extremely hard to find the few worthwhile ones between them. And I don't even have very high standards - some of the ones mentioned in my previous post are not exactly Nobel Prize in literature material either. But for an example of the 90% crud that makes browsing books so hard, I would like to present a novel that I bought on a whim at the previous fair we went to:

Stan Nicholls, Legion of Thunder. Book 2 of Orcs: First Blood.

Being part of a series is not decisive evidence of being crud, but it is a first warning sign. At a minimum I am starting to think that the better authors are the ones that write a series so that each novel can stand by itself. Think Martin Scott's Thraxas, Barry Hughart's Master Li chronicles, or Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels; each book is a self-contained story. When everything has to end on a cliff-hanger, however, it just looks cheap and like trying too hard. There is also the risk that the story will never be brought to a resolution and instead end with author existence failure.

Now as for the book itself, I was fooled into buying it because I had read other, fairly good books by different authors written from the perspective of the usual fantasy underdogs like orcs or dark elves. In the present case, however, the plot of the novel can comfortably be summarised as follows:

Protagonists search for McGuffins (yes, plural; they have to collect several).
Protagonists get into fight.
Protagonists search for McGuffins.
Protagonists get into fight.
Protagonists search for McGuffins.
Protagonists get into fight.
Novel ends on a cliff-hanger.

The fights appear to be the main attraction here, as they are written in a very voyeuristic manner. Apparently some readers really look forward to knowing which evil mook gets a knife into the eye, which one gets its arm cut off, and how far the blood sprays.

But the insults to the reader's intelligence don't stop there. In the background there is a big bad sorceress who is so comically evil and so prone to randomly killing her own followers that she should have been murdered in a palace coup years ago. During what is clearly meant to be a pivotal moment in her character development, she demands of one of her sisters, who is ruling over a people of aquatic semi-humanoids, to help her hunt for the protagonists, who are moving entirely on land. Her sister rejects the demand, and so she magics her dead.

The things is, it never really becomes clear how helping would have looked like. Why didn't her sister simply agree, on the lines of: "I will gladly help you, let me just command all my soldiers who can operate on dry land to assist you OH WAIT I DON'T HAVE ANY"?

Seriously, the world does not need this kind of book to use up paper that could be used to print decent ones.

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