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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

 

Ungenred versus hyper-genre

In an earlier post, the subject of genre came up in the comments, and I found myself speculating. Since then, people have referenced the speculation, so I think I'll put it somewhere easy to find and make a post out of it...

'Cross-genre' is a generic term in publishing and reviewing for works that appear to incorporate elements from more than one conventional genre. A thriller with werewolves in it, for instance, or a detective story set in the Wild West. It's not a universal description, because there are some genres that appear to trump other elements: a romance tends to get called a romance no matter what it includes, for instance, and a book with science fiction or fantasy elements tends to get called SFF no matter what else (and if you put the two together, people start creating new categories like 'vampire romance'). A more schematic person than me could probably have some fun trying to work out what trumps what in the genre category, but suffice to say at this point that there are certain books that fit neatly into a certain genre classification, certain books that more or less fit into it with other elements providing a bit of alternative flavour, and books that really don't fit any genre very well and tend to get called 'cross-genre' to account for it.

But within the 'cross-genre' category, there are two extremes - and they don't necessarily sit well with each other.

On the one hand, you have people like me: people who don't actually like the concept of genre very much. People who will use 'genre' devices, structures and concepts where necessary to create a particular work in the way that works best for them, just as they'll use any literary device that comes to hand. People, basically, whose only functioning category is 'books', and who let themselves be influenced accordingly. Such people may produce work that can technically be classed as one of several genres if you insist, but it's probably more in the spirit of the work to call it 'ungenred' rather than 'cross-genre': work that neither excludes nor includes anything according to genre convention, but simply has a certain amount of genre work, along with other things, in its cultural background.

In other words, work that may conform or break with genre conventions, not for the sake of conforming or breaking with them but simply because the story can't be told any other way.

On the other hand, you have 'cross-genre' stuff that's very much part of a particular genre. It's just a new genre, a meta-genre if you will: the genre written and read by people who love 'genre-ness'. People who love genre for its own sake, love it for being genre, love the accumulation of memories and detail that go with being a serious genre fan. From this, you get books that derive much of their substance from conscious play with genre conventions - including this, subverting that, cross-pollinating the other - and combining elements from different genres precisely because they are genre elements, and that's the fun. Books whose 'genre' is genre itself.

In other words, books that aren't 'ungenred', nor even necessarily 'cross-genred', but 'hyper-genred.' If ungenred work has the story drive the genre elements - they're present or absent according to the needs of the story - hype-genred work is much more likely to be the revers, to have the genre drive the story - at least insofar as the desire to include certain elements is one of the story's origins, and what gives it a lot of its energy.

And there's nothing wrong with either. Hyper-genred stuff is not to my personal taste, but there's no reason why somebody can't write a good book that way.

The trouble comes when people start trying to label books according to their technical content rather than their basic approach. What happens then is that ungenred and hyper-genred authors get lumped together because of a superficial resemblance, despite the fact that their approaches to genre are opposite, or indeed actively opposed. On the one hand you have authors saying, 'Ach, genre is all nonsense, I'm going to write my book ignoring them as much as possible.' On the other, you have authors saying, 'Wow, genre is so much fun! I'm going to write my book playing around with it as much as I can.' Then what you have is two cats in a sack: probably neither one wants to be there, and they certainly don't want to be there with the other one.

In that sack, hyper-genre authors tend to have a certain home turf advantage. If you love categorising things, well, you can certainly categorise an ungenred book - such books lend themselves to category play, in fact, though it's spiritually alien to their purpose. It's much harder for an ungenred author to play that game back. A hype-genre author or fan can say (as I know from experience), 'But you can't get away from genre, because look, your own book has genre bits in it!' All you can really do then is mutter about missing the point. It's much harder to tell a hyper-genre author, 'But genre doesn't mean anything because look, your book is ... um ... completely defined by genre and derives much of its meaning from genre ... oh bollocks, well look, I just don't think it's the be-all and end-all, okay?' If you want to play 'Gotcha!' - which is not a very good approach to literature, but people do love to do it - the hyper-genre author is in a much stronger position.

My view is that hyper-genre is a new publishing category, and one that's quite easy to sell, because the marketing blurb - 'It's X meets Y' - is both close to the author's original inspiration and snappy enough to put on a press release. It has a ready market in other people who love genre for its own sake, and it's easy to pitch precisely because it relies on playing with common knowledge. Ungenred stuff is awfully difficult to pitch unless you use a similar kind of categorisation; you end up saying 'It's X meets Y but it's not the way you'd expect X meets Y to go...' which is hardly dynamic marketing. Once again, hyper-genre work is in its comfort zone where ungenred work is struggling to account for itself.

Well, that's the way the sales business works. It's a useful to distinction to consider, anyway.



Comments:
I think there are multiple really interesting things going on here.

One is the conflation of pieces into what a publisher would call "genre": there are elements of setting (flying ships, vampires, lonely single millionaires), but there are also elements of style (everyone important is a member of the aristocracy, there WILL be a happy ending involving a 1m1f exclusive relationship). Some of these are tied together and hard to unpack (much of vampire romance).

But it's entirely possible to write a romance story in a science-fictional setting and keep the two divided parts separate (Bujold has done it rather well, for my money; Captain Vorpatril's Alliance certainly uses thematic devices very familiar to this occasional romance reader). To a publisher, it gets lumped into the same cross-genre SF/romance bin as Catherine Asaro's work (which starts off with an interesting setting but largely forgets about the science fiction in pursuit of Doomed Love), or all those forgettable books written by romance authors who thought it would be easy to bring in the SF-reading crowd.

(Firedrake's Hints to the Aspiring Writer: if you have contempt for a genre, don't write in it. At least be able to fake love for it.)

Another thing of course is the blatant inadequacy of a one- or two-word genre label to describe a book. Is Nineteen Eighty-Four science fiction because it's set in the future? Is Oryx and Crake not science fiction because the author doesn't like the term? Will either of those books appeal to someone who's just read fifty Star Trek novelisations, more than a long fantasy series would?

Yet another thing, expanding on the theoretical scale defined by your "ungenred" and "hyper-genre" points: to what extent is the genre the reason for any given story? Can it be the primary reason for a successful story, dragging characters and plot along in its wake?
 
(Firedrake's Hints to the Aspiring Writer: if you have contempt for a genre, don't write in it. At least be able to fake love for it.)

See, that in itself is genre-focused advice. I haven't read Asaro, but is a writer necessarily 'writing in a genre' just because they include certain elements that it tends to feature?

I don't think you can fake love for anything in writing. But I don't think it's exactly about loving a genre; I think it's more about loving whatever concept you're working on. Some people love an idea for being genre-ish, which is probably what leads to the good hype-genred stuff, and some people love other ideas ... but I'm always doubtful when people assume that people assume someone included SF elements to 'bring in the SF crowd.' It just seems like an unnecessary conspiracy theory that gives the author no credit as a human being; why not assume the more likely scenario that they had an idea that seemed SF-ish, thought they might as well give it a go and see how it went, and it didn't pan out perfectly because some ideas just don't? Or even that it panned out perfectly well for people who are, say, interested primarily in romance and perfectly happy with a bit of science fiction as part of the scenery? It all smacks of viewing writers as essentially criminal and shifty, which ...

...well, I suppose if someone does view writers as essentially criminal and shifty, there's probably nothing I can say that won't sound like a flimsy denial. :-)
 
"People who love genre for its own sake, love it for being genre, love the accumulation of memories and detail that go with being a serious genre fan."

OTOH, you get &^%* like the current novel I am reviewing, a fairly good science fiction for teens (and the good Lord knows that there are few enough of those), but in which the author, on an alien planet colonized by humans eleven thousand years in the past, feels compelled to drop in an anvilicious Monty Python joke. AAAARGGGHHH!
 
I've read Asaro, and I like (some) of her books very much; she is explicitly writing in the science fiction genre, she is explicitly writing in the romance genre, she is explicitly writing in certain subgenres of each (Political Intrigues in Galactic Empires / Hard Physics Extrapolation / Psionics and Evolutionary Speculation on the one hand, Romeo and Juliet Forbidden Love / Fated Mates / Marriage of Convenience becomes Love Match on the other).

I don't have any problem saying that she's doing that, because *she* says she's doing that, and she does it darn well.

----

I'm always doubtful when people assume that people assume someone included SF elements to 'bring in the SF crowd.' It just seems like an unnecessary conspiracy theory that gives the author no credit as a human being; why not assume the more likely scenario that they had an idea that seemed SF-ish, thought they might as well give it a go and see how it went

Well, if Firedrake was thinking of the same sorts of books that I'm thinking of, it's not necessarily a "conspiracy theory" as the recognition that authors are homo economicus like the rest of us, and if their agent or editor or the literary magazines suggest that what it takes to sell their perfectly fine romance novel is to turn their Regency duke or Viking barbarian into a Elf prince or a Space Pirate, they think "Sure, why not?"

And "why not?" indeed; but if the author does this merely by a superficial airbrushing (as many of those which I have read have done), without any thought to the implications of having their hero ride a dragon instead of a horse, it's hard not to feel cheated and condescended to as a reader.
 
And here I go chatting on and on...

None of the above should be taken to mean that I don't think that you're making a very useful distinction here -- or, more important, detangling two things that have been often conflated.

"Genre", as I'll cheerfully stand up on my soapbox and rant, is a marketing tool (which is not a BAD thing) ideally aimed at matching consumer wants and expectations with what the product is designed to deliver.

The problem here, of course, is that while (SOME!!) readers are looking for "product" rather than art, and (SOME!!) writers are perfectly happy to deliver the same, the majority of both are not.

And art, if it is about anything, is about confounding expectations.
 
Well, if Firedrake was thinking of the same sorts of books that I'm thinking of, it's not necessarily a "conspiracy theory" as the recognition that authors are homo economicus like the rest of us, and if their agent or editor or the literary magazines suggest that what it takes to sell their perfectly fine romance novel is to turn their Regency duke or Viking barbarian into a Elf prince or a Space Pirate, they think "Sure, why not?"

I dunno; it's not my experience that an agent or editor does that kind of thing. Maybe some of them do, but I have personally yet to meet a publishing professional whose selling strategy is anything more than 'Make it as attractive a version of itself as you can and I'll see what I can do.'

I do agree that it's frustrating to read a book because it looks like it'll deliver a certain satisfaction and then find that it completely fails to, but I can't help feeling that it's ... well, it smacks of emotional resaoning, let's say, to turn that frustration into the assumption that the false hopes must have been raised deliberately as a cynical marketing ploy. It feels like saying, 'This book really frustrated my hopes - somebody must have raised them falsely on purpose!' And that assumes the reader to have been a big part in the author/publishers' calculations - which at the writing process, they aren't necessarily. We're often far more marginal to the writers we read than we feel ourselves to be.

I mean, if the author's blog has a post that says, 'Hey, I'm not particularly into this kind of thing but my agent said it was a big market and to give it a try,' sure, but in the absence of evidence, to me it just feels like looking for someone to blame for the frustration. And, well, some works are frustrating, but that can happen for lots of reasons. I just don't think one can assume with any certainty that the reasons are economic.

I mean, you read much more of this kind of thing than I do, so maybe you know something I don't. But when you make a generalisation like 'to aspiring writers', then that takes in all aspiring writers, and in that instance, well...

...I guess my advice to aspiring writers would be different: don't try to fake anything, just write the book the way you feel it should be written and hope for the best.
 
I'm thinking of "genre" in a fairly broad sense; perhaps I should have said, closer to Kit's version, "don't bring in any element unless you really care about it and want to use it".

On the other hand, the phenomenon of which I was particularly thinking is the "literary" writer who decides that SF (or romance, but SF is what I tend to meet) must be trivially easy after the Important Writing he's done, and comes up with what's essentially a literary novel which explores some science-fictional idea... except that it does it as though the idea were new and amazing, where in practice it's something Asimov or some other Golden Age writer came up with and the variations on it have already been endlessly written and discussed. I need an example... oh, Martin Amis' Time's Arrow. To an SF reader, there's absolutely no novelty in the idea of a consciousness of time flowing backwards; to Amis, it's an idea strong enough to carry the book on its own.

I've certainly known writers who quite overtly had contempt for what they were doing, particularly when they were working in franchised settings. Others don't. Most of them I don't know about. I wasn't aiming to say anything about writers in general. (OK, Kit doesn't necessarily know this about me: I have known quite a few publishers and writers, mostly SF. I don't usually talk about it because it feels like bragging - even writing this is hard - but I generally have some idea of what I'm talking about or I don't bother to post.)

I quite like the early Asaro, but she rather loses me in the later books when the SF elements start to feel more like backdrop to the big doomed love stories; I feel that other settings might have done just as well for all the engagement we get. But I'm not a great fan of big doomed love stories anyway.
 
Well, I have no idea what I'm talking about, but I'll post anyway.

I've never read Time's Arrow, or anything else by Amis for that matter. But would you say that he depended on the backward-time conceit to "carry the whole novel"? Or just one element in whatever effect he was trying for?

If nothing else, anyone who'd read The Sword in the Stone would have been familiar with the living-backward concept.

But maybe that's difference between genre and non-. For the genre reader, the treatment of time concept is the point. For the non-genre reader, it's the stepping-stone to the point, and its originality or otherwise, or relationship to other works with similar concepts, is beside the point.

Um. Or some point like that.
 
But maybe that's difference between genre and non-. For the genre reader, the treatment of time concept is the point. For the non-genre reader, it's the stepping-stone to the point, and its originality or otherwise, or relationship to other works with similar concepts, is beside the point.

I think this an excellent point.

I'll use me as an example.

When I first read Margaret Atwood's THE HANDMAID'S TALE, I *hated* it. The way it was "sold" to me, and from the first sentence, it triggered the "genre books: specifically misogynistic theocratic dystopia" expectation in me, and reading it as such...

... well, it isn't very good. None of the "ideas" are original, the "worldbuilding" stinks, the genre conventions are either belabored or ignored; and Atwood's later dismissive statements about science fiction and genre in general didn't help much.

(I believe I've ranted publicly about this topic before [g] )

But after a while, I was challenge to try and read it NOT as a science fiction story but as a sort of literary fable, and the result was astonishing. It becomes an entirely different text.

I won't say that I love (or even like) it now, because I don't. That's mainly because I, as a reader, have to force my brain practically sentence by sentence to go into a different reading "mode" than my expectations demand. That's more work than I really want to put into this particular story.

But in fairness, I have to admit that isn't a weakness of Atwood the writer, but hapax the reader.

(Can you tell that "genre, the uses and abuses thereof", is just about my favorite topic in the world to blather about?)
 
Multi-part post coming up...

I need an example... oh, Martin Amis' Time's Arrow. To an SF reader, there's absolutely no novelty in the idea of a consciousness of time flowing backwards; to Amis, it's an idea strong enough to carry the book on its own.

SF fans often say this - though they seldom give examples, so may I shake your hand and thank you for that? :-) - but again, the degree of mind-reading involved in concluding the author must have thought it'd be 'trivially easy' and would 'carry the book' again makes me uncomfortable. Unless an author explicitly says so, (and if you've had contacts and experience, then I for one would be very interested to hear them and would not think you were showing off at all, just backing up your points), I think that intellectual rigour should exclude the assumption.

So, I've read Time's Arrow. And actually, I don't think the idea of time flowing backwards is at all what the book is 'about'. It's the device used to explore the book's central theme, which is about a man who has committed atrocities and got away with them. The point of his backwards perspective is that, with no memory of when time went forwards, his perspective allows a kind of innocence which at the same time makes fresh a familiar horror. The concentration camp scenes are among the most ghastly things I've ever read, precisely because the device allows us to see it. It's very hard to fully grasp just how horrendous such treatment would be because the mind can't bear it and shuts down its empathy; on the other hand, if you reverse it and talk about how good and benevolent such acts are because what you see is damage reversed - well, the mind is perfectly willing to identify with happiness, healing, reunion of families. And in that way, Amis hits you from behind, and you are forced to feel some of the cruelty.

So I don't think it's accurate to say that he expects the device to carry the book. Or not from a literary perspective, which I how I read it and almost certainly how he wrote it.

I'm trying to come up with a science fiction example, but I'm not well enough read; maybe somebody can suggest something. But I've certainly heard the suggestion that some writers lead with their concepts, that the primary purpose of the book is to explore a particular idea. Some writers are brilliant at ideas but their handling of style, context, character, dialogue, political commentary and so on are not particularly good. Their ideas are so clever that people forgive them for this - but if you temporarily blank out the cleverness of the idea (imagine some kind of Apolline black pen for the moment), there isn't much left. Would I read John Wyndham, say, for his style, character and plots? Probably not. The Chrysalids is a decent thriller as well as a novel of ideas, but with most of his works, if you take out the science fiction ... well, he's not exactly bad, but there are so many other writers who do all those other things better that he'd be pretty forgettable in the crowd.
 
But I don't think you can say the same thing about Martin Amis. I'm not a particular Amis fan, but I do have to acknowledge that he can be linguistically spectacular, that he has an ambitious social sweep, that he's intertextually clever, and so on. As witness the fact that his other books are just as successful as Time's Arrow, if not more so: separating the concept from a book is an intellectually dodgy thing to do, but when Amis does Amis minus the technical conceit, there's still a good book there.

So I think if you read Time's Arrow as science fiction - that is, if you read it looking to be impressed with a clever idea - then yes, it's doubtless been done before, because it's a simple idea. But to my mind, that's like calling John Wyndham a boring writer because he doesn't feature Austenian dialogue or Wodehousian comedy. If you judge a book by an alien criteria it's never going to look very good; you need to judge it on its own terms. And on its own terms, I don't think that Time's Arrow is a science fiction book. I think it's a literary ungenred work that uses a conceit instrumentally to serve a different goal rather than giving it the centrality of traditional science fiction.

Which may not be to everyone's personal taste, of course, but it's not a failing of the book as a book.

Which is a longer way of repeating Amaryllis's point, basically. :-)

--

I know you won't take it personally, hapax, if I take a moment to say 'GAH I hate the word "worldbuildling"!;
 
OK, here's a concept-led SF author: Arthur C. Clarke. Specifically let's consider Rendezvous with Rama or A Fall of Moondust - I think it would be fairly uncontentious to say that neither of them has anything approximating a memorable character in it. Rama doesn't even solve its central puzzle ("why was this object built"), which is something many SF fans tend to insist on.
 
I'll take your word for it. :-)

So: suppose a literary reader says, 'Clarke is just no good because he can't write characters; it's like he thought there was money in this writing business and couldn't be bothered to do it properly.' Unfair, no?
 
As far as I can tell, literary readers have for many years been using just such arguments to claim that all science fiction - indeed, all non-"literary" fiction - is rubbish.

What might be more interesting would be a book about which they could say "well, he just put in those well-drawn characters to attract the literary crowd, but he's really just a science fiction writer". Except... that I don't think such books can exist.
 
Another multi-part comment ahoy:

As far as I can tell, literary readers have for many years been using just such arguments to claim that all science fiction - indeed, all non-"literary" fiction - is rubbish.

Well, as a literary reader ... well, I expect I feel the same way about that you feel when people say 'science fiction readers have no taste.' It's not really accurate or fair. Whoa sweeping, cool it a bit. :-)

What I will say from my own experience is that it's kind of a different experience. I haven't read any Clarke that I can recall, but I've read some of the classics - a bit of Asimov, quite a few John Wyndhams, some H.G. Wells. And from a literary perspective...

Hm. How to say this?

Okay, let's take H.G. Wells, because he's an excellent writer as well as an excellent science fiction writer. He's not exactly Nabokov when it comes to the linguistics, but he doesn't need to be; his ideas are powerful on an emotional as well as an intellectual level. He interweaves political and religious and philosophical satire with his experimental thinking and his style is plain but mordant: even if you're not that interested in the science he can interest you, because as much as he's writing about science, he's writing about human nature. If you ignore the science fiction, then what you have is something akin to Swift's 'Modest Proposal'. So from a literary perspective, the fact that he's not a much of a character writer is not very relevant: there are plenty of other, non-sci-fi things to admire about his books.

Then again, if you take the science fiction out of John Wyndham ... he's still entertaining, but on the level of a respectable pulp novelist. He has basically one concept that he uses, which is that humanity's position as the dominant species should not be taken for granted; he rings the changes with that in a variety of clever and engaging ways. But he lacks Wells's sweep and bite; without the originality of his conceits, he'd be a lot more minor. (Speaking as a minor novelist, there's nothing wrong with that, but we're talking about literature as a whole here.)

Asimov I haven't read recently enough to talk about, so let's just posit a notional science fiction writer whose concepts are brilliant, but whose characters are flatter than the pages they're printed on, whose understanding of human nature is completely off, whose writing style is comprehensible but not much more, whose reflection on social issues is minimal, and generally speaking whose only real merit is the cleverness of their ideas.
 
Now, a literary reader may be more dismissive of them than a science fiction reader, but it's not necessarily because they're genre snobs. If you are a literary reader, you get all kinds of aesthetic pleasure from reading a literary work, and because it's artistic, complex, emotional pleasure, the pleasure of contemplating a clever concept feels, in comparison, a bit ... well, crude.

Of course, that's partly an issue of taste. But I don't think 'literary readers' dismiss science fiction as 'rubbish' just because it leads with its ideas. We probably are more likely to shrug off a book that has nothing but its ideas to recommend it - but honestly, from a literary perspective, that's because you judge a book as a book, as a rendering of a particular art form, and you want every element it includes to be at least adequate. You can write a book without spaceships or walking plants in it, but you can't write a book without characters or plot, so if you're looking at everything about a book, certain kinds of science fiction are at a disadvantage.

But actually a lot of 'literary readers' have a great fondness for this or that genre, so it's not really fair to say we all dismiss genre as rubbish. We're just a bit less forgiving of rubbishy writing - and I kind of stand by that.

(Another reason literary types may dismiss a genre as rubbish is that genres tend to sustain a higher average level of rubbish. There are people who'll read just about anything that has, say, a werewolf in it, which means publishers can make a living putting out books that sell on the presence of their werewolves rather than the strength of their writing. Such books keep the hardcore genre fans happy, but they drag down the quality average.)
 
What might be more interesting would be a book about which they could say "well, he just put in those well-drawn characters to attract the literary crowd, but he's really just a science fiction writer". Except... that I don't think such books can exist.

You're right, I think. But what you do seem to get a lot of is certain science fiction fans taking bitter exception to books that have a 'science fiction' idea in them somewhere, but which are written by literary writers for a literary audience, and have 'those well-drawn characters' precisely because they do want to attract the literary crowd.

The literary crowd are perfectly happy to read them, but it's almost impossible to mention Margaret Atwood on the Internet, for example, without some sci fi type popping up to say 'HER BOOKS ARE TERRIBLE!!!!!' - not because they think she's included character writing and social commentary and a delicate, flexible style as a literary bait-and-switch, but because, as hapax says, they don't really clock those things, which are the main point of her novels.

(I also have a suspicion that she'd get less bile if she were male, but that's another story.)

In a situation like that, science fiction- focused critics are less willing to accept that the writer's sole aim was to 'attract the literary crowd', and so addressing a very complex history specific to an in-crowd who have 'endlessly written and discussed' a particular concept is just not the priority. And personally I think there's nothing wrong with that unless you think that the in-crowd somehow 'owns' the idea because they've talked about it a lot - and I do see a certain sense of 'Get off our territory!' in some of the more bilious comments about such situations.

The thing is, 'the literary crowd' is rather hard to bait-and-switch. You want to get our attention, you have to produce a book that has literary quality, and that's pretty much impossible to fake. You can write a book that has a disappointing conclusion, but you can't suddenly become a worse writer in the middle of it.* And if a book's got literary quality, then it's got literary quality.

Take, for instance, the way people choose what to read in the first place. Going round the library, I have an infallible method - which, incidentally, I didn't develop as a conscious strategy, but simply found myself doing. I open the book, either at random or on the first page, and read about a paragraph. Does it hold my attention? I'll check it out. If not, I'll put it back. What I'm scanning for is literary quality: if somebody's a good writer, you can tell from a very small sample. Teresa Nielsen Hayden remarked in the famous 'Slushkiller' thread of Making Light that 'You don’t have to drink the entire carton of milk in order to tell that it’s gone bad,' and that's a very apt comparison. I take a sip of a book and see how it tastes.

So I very seldom feel I've fallen prey to a bait-and-switch, because what I 'taste' for is simply the way an author writes.
 
*I can, of course, feel frustrated and upset if something doesn't deliver on a promise of good character writing. I was very into the TV series Big Love, for instance, because it was excellent character drama with a good script and great performances. The ending, though, was just a horrible validation of the male lead who had, based on the script and performances, been becoming more and more abusive as time went on. What I thought was a script sympathetic to women that showed a man becoming corrupted by living an unsustainable doctrine simply lurched in the other direction at the last minute, and yes, I felt pretty angry and let down.

My feelings were partly political, but they were also artistic, because it just didn't work as character writing. Having Barb, the polygamous hero Bill's first wife, constantly make moves to become more independent and then change her mind at the last minute started to seem not just sad, but repetitive writing. Bill's ending wasn't just unsatisfying to my id, it was contrived and problem-dodging. The 'happy ending' wasn't just contrary to my wishes, it involved ignoring previous subtleties and was, as a result, crudely written. So that was an example of something that had artistic quality going drastically downhill.

I think it's worth pointing out, though, that this was a television series, and as such, written in an environment where the ending of the story was determined by financial rather than artistic necessities, which is never good for planning. I also have the sense that the actresses of the series gave it more subtlety than the (male) creators, and as it's all about a situation that favours men, the absence of a female lead writer was, I think, a series problem by the end. So it faced external pressures that a book doesn't.

I am still pissed off about it, though. You can bait-and-switch a literary type; it's just less common.

--

But on the same general subject - you might find this article interesting: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/aug/12/society

It's an account of the rise and fall of writer Colin Wilson within the literary establishment. His first book was greeted with overwhelming critical acclaim and he was considered one of the leading stars of the 'Angry Young Man' generation, but as time went on and he made odder and odder remarks in the press, the literary world started to wonder if they'd gotten it wrong, and when his second book came out it was absolutely trashed. And, in fact, Wilson did continue as a writer for the rest of his life, but as a writer of non-fiction true crime, the occult and the like. He went from literary star to hard-working genre writer, in other words.

(I actually worked with his sons, who followed in his footsteps. As far as I can gather, they're an extremely nice family, and they were most professional and pleasant to work with. So I haven't a bad word to say on that score, which I should add in the interests of fairness.)

So that is a story in which literary people were initially impressed by the apparent intellectualism of a book and then decided they'd been misled. It happens every now and again.
 
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