It occurred to me yesterday while I was working on this blog (adding a Follow button, tags, etc.) that I still had not said anything more about that e-book I talked about a few posts ago, even though it’s been a while since I finished reading it.
The short version: It did not improve in the remaining 47%. The plot holes were never filled, the language remained clunky and awkward and tedious, and the punctuation still stank like a pile of zombie’s socks.
The much longer version: Something was done with one of the supporting characters that, in my opinion, was tacked on to give that character a larger role because someone had told the author that said character was a non-person otherwise, in the story only to provide the protagonist with a (shallowly presented) reason to feel more unhappy about his own situation. Instead of giving the supporting character a bit of depth — supporting character, after all, not nameless walk-on — and maybe a bit of personality and motivation of their own, the author decided that this ordinary person had to be given a (completely unjustified) role in the violence-and-explosions action that comprised the majority of the story. It fell flat. But hey, now the protagonist doesn’t have that ordinary person weighing him down, holding him back, so he is free to go off and do even more violence-and-explosions action stuff while also feeling some artificially generated angst over his supporting-cast friend getting killed by the villain. So it’s not all bad, right?
Lest anyone think that I have something against violence and explosions in fiction… I don’t. Space battles and sword fights are great, and I have watched just the lobby fight scene from The Matrix — chock-full of guns and explosions — over and over, because that scene is art.
However, I do insist on a lot of plot with the violence and explosions, and, y’know, characters who are people, not flat cardboard cutouts. Cardboard cutouts may look cool standing in a corner and scaring my friend Steve’s weird little dog, but they don’t make convincing protagonists or antagonists or even supporting characters. Cardboard cutouts cannot wield handguns or ray guns or fencing sabers; they cannot pilot starships or fight demons or sneak into the enemy’s citadel to blow it up. At the very least, I demand a setting that can hold my interest.
While I’m at it, I also feel the reviewers of said e-book owe readers an apology. How the hell could anyone give a 5-star review to something so badly written? If it was only bad in a technical sense — terrible punctuation and such — but told a great story about fascinating characters in a wonderfully detailed and interesting setting, I could overlook the punctuation thing. (Currently, I am overlooking the punctuation thing in a novel I started reading a couple of days ago. The author didn’t know the difference between commas and semicolons, apparently, but I’m loving the plot, the protagonist and the antagonist are interesting and rather likeable people, and the setting is vivid and unusual. It’s s good book. To hell with the wonky semicolons.) But when there’s nothing to a novel except the explosions — which are not described in a way that makes them interesting even in a momentary “Wow, that was one hell of an explosion!” sort of way — I cannot see how any honest reviewer could say that the novel was, for all practical purposes, perfect. WTF?
By honest, I mean, Did you read it? Did you actually pay attention to what you were reading? Did you give your real opinion of the novel rather than giving it five stars in hopes that the author of that novel would do the same for yours? If those reviewers truly found nothing wrong with this novel, they were not paying attention, or were cutting the author a break because it’s self-published, or whatever. Self-publishing does not mean the writer can to throw bad writing out in public in the assumption that no one will know the difference and then demand that people pay them for it, and authors who do so deserve the ire of authors who are being professional about their self-published writing. Plus, since the novel I’m ranting against here is science fiction, it makes the whole genre look bad, the sort of thing that mundanes point to when they say, “All sci-fi is crap because this is sci-fi and it’s crap.” (Don’t think they don’t say it. Why else do Literature Snobs get away with saying, “My novel may look like science fiction, but it isn’t, because my novel has Literary Merit.” Anyone who says that, by the way, ought to have their Hugo award taken back.)
After my halfway-through-the-book report, one person commented that I shouldn’t finish reading this novel if it’s so bad. I finished reading it so that I could say with honesty that I had read all of it, that I had given it a fair chance before forming my final opinion. So there you have it.