The Star Wars Effect as it pertains to SciFi/Fantasy novels

I picked up the original Raymond E. Feist book “Magician” and started re-reading it for perhaps the 8th or 10th time this weekend. I’ve probably re-read it so many times these last ~20 years because it was actually the very first real fantasy novel I ever read and I get a bit nostalgic about it. I was 13 and we were on vacation at the shore but the weather was kind of lousy so I was just reading all the time. I stumbled on the first book at the book store and managed to read all four volumes of the Riftwar Saga that week.

Anyway, Feist has probably written or co-written something like 22 volumes since then and he’s apparently working on yet another series called the “Darkwar Series.” I’ve probably read about 12 of his books and unfortunately, after the Riftwar Saga it was basically all down hill as far as I’m concerned.

I guess these authors and artists basically either decided that they just can’t put the freaking pencil down and stop boring us with additional derivative stories or else they just really want the additional millions of dollars. But what compels George Lucas to keep ruining his initial story more and more convincingly every decade? Maybe it’s just ego…he obviously doesn’t need the money and most fans would probably prefer if he just stopped.

And what compels Robert Jordan to churn out awful book after awful book on his deathbed? Why is it so rare for somebody to write a few extremely good books and then basically say “ok that was really good I’m not going to ruin it by adding crap.”?

There seem to be precious few exceptions to this situation. Tolkien obviously, and I’d argue Frank Herbert and Asimov although I realize that a lot of people thought the later Herbert books were bad and some people felt some of the books in Asimov’s Robot/Colony/Empire/Foundation mega series were kind of weak. I guess I’m just lamenting the fact that our society seems so prone to gluttony in every arena. Some chocolate is good, lots of chocolate is better. Some fries are good, Super Size fries are better. A trilogy is nice, 23 books of decreasing quality are “better.”

I’d like to think these authors keep writing or producing stories in their “worlds” because they just want to keep making fans happy but I have a feeling it’s often the greed factor too. Although I don’t honestly know whether somebody like Feist makes more on a new novel or on royalties (or whatever) on his first novels.

I was doing some writing this weekend, and I needed to do something to punch up the ending.

I started thinking “well, they could have some kind of force field around the enemy base that the heroes need to bring down before they can blow the ship up.”

THen I started thinking, “Hmmm… now wait, that plot sounds pretty familiar to something…”

But to your point, I think it’s a generational thing. Gen X and Gen Y both like big continuity, and it works out nicely because the corporations have a sure thing, which garuntees a contract and a decent paycheck, which can be hard to come by in the world of entertainment.

And don’t understimate the power of a strong brand. Even the most derivative dreck will still rake in the bucks. And once a brand is established it’s surprisingly difficult to kill the cash cow, no matter how bad your actual milk might taste.

I was kinda with you until you mentioned Asimov as an example of someone who didn’t dilute things by churning out more books.

I’ve thought this type of thing about far more than authors.

It seems to me that you could invest in tax free municipal bonds, such that you get a 4% guaranteed return after taxes (maybe its a little bit off, but its probably close).

I’ve always wondered why the first pick in the NFL draft doesn’t get his $10 million after tax signing bonus and say, “I think I’ll live off of the $400,000 per year in interest this will generate. I’m retiring.” On day 1.

The connection with the authors is similar. I guess I very clearly have an amount of money that is enough, and thereafter I could live well enough off the interest (part of which I would kick into the principal to keep inflation adjusted) to not ever do anything for anyone again.

Most people do this because they can not ever reach that amount of seed money. These types of authors and athletes have, however.

$400k won’t keep a playa in Escalades, blow, and bling, knowwhatimsayin’?

I’m right there with you man, once I get my first $10mil, I’m set for life. :)

I know Feist has talked for over a decade about wanting to do some none Midkemia stuff again but I think the sales of Faerie Tale made it very hard. From what I understand from reading comments from various authors, it becomes almost impossible for a lot of these guys to break away because the fan base expects one thing and doesn’t follow them.

Plus, while I’m sure Feist has done quite well for himself, I’m guessing his divorce has cost him enough to provide fresh incentive to continue churning out Krondor novels.

although with him it felt more like he liked writing as opposed to cashing in. in a couple of his introductions and shrt stories you can see his love for the process of writing. in “galley slave”, where a droid was programmed to proof the rough drafts sent down to the publisher, a character warned of writers who would advance the droid enough that it could do editing and rewrites, how proofing the roughs themselves helped writers make their stories better.

in one of his book introductions he talked about how he was on a train talking to one person who asked where he got ideas. asimov replied he got ideas everywhere. in fact, he said he could probably write one about a train and started to do so.

when asked what he would do if the world was ending: “type faster.”

on the other side i just finished a david weber novel set in the honor harrington universe about cadets on their first cruise. you could tell he was dragging out the franchise for cash. tons and tons of pages describing and re-describing the politics. yes, we get that the queen can’t delay the vote for annexing this one little government forever. thanks for mentioning it twenty times already. and it was great editing letting weber mention that blond chick’s “platinum hair” twice within like three pages.

One of the things I like about some authors is their tight writing style. I’ve noticed with a lot of the colorful covered books (my wife’s term for my SciFi/Fantasy books) I tend to skip over meaningless description and skirt smoothing and get to the dialog and the actuall descriptions of action. The books go much faster this way.

An author that made an impression early on with his tigher style was William Gibson. I remember the first time I read Neuromancer, it was incomprehensible if I tried to read it the “normal” way, but slowing down and reading his words and his meaningful to the story descriptions opened up the story and brought in comprehension and enjoyment from it.

On topic though, Terry Brooks Shanarra should have been retired long long ago. I love the world, but man…

I’m just impressed when an author can develop a great setting and characters and write a fantastic book about it. The leave it behind and do it all over again with another book.

Good, medium-length, single-volume fantasy books are always a nice find.

OK, but he still wrote more books than like anyone, ever.

I think focusing on the money is misleading. Perhaps they just like writing. It’s their career and their love. Same with football players. They LOVE the game. Yes, they want money, just as you would want money if you could get it for doing something you love. But you wouldn’t then stop doing it.

I’m unclear about the original subject though. Authors keep writing because they are authors. Is the problem that they stay in the same world and don’t come up with new worlds, or is the problem that they still write at all? What do you expect them to do? They’re writers. You could save up money from your career and retire early, and maybe you have already done your best work at your job. But, how would you know? And wouldn’t you be a bit bored if you just stopped, especially if you actually enjoy your work?

I’ve read all of Feist’s books. Even Faerie Tale. I actually kind of enjoy them, though they’re clearly not great works of literature and they started going downhill right after Magician. His latest Conclave of Shadows books is an attempt to do something kind of different, with more focus on non-munchkin characters that can’t, you know, destroy whole worlds by waving their hands at them. But they seem chock full of anachronisms and come off feeling like James Bond in pantaloons, which is awkward.

But I think Robert is right: writers write because they’re writers. They enjoy it and the successful ones make a living off it. I used to be on a Feist Fans listserv to which he made regular contributions, and it seemed like he approached it very much like a job: Get up in the morning, sit down in front of the computer, and write for the next 8 hours. People like Feist also have a bunch of fans that set up an echo chamber, demand more of the same, and buy it when he delivers. He doesn’t listen to the detractors nearly as much because they’re not directly addressing him.

I really think the problem is akin to the idea of painters taking a wonderful scene that they’ve already painted and going back and painting more on top of it. If Monet had returned to “Water Lilies” ten years later and painted in a bunch of sharks with laser beams on their frickin heads you would get approximately the same effect.

I’m not proposing that authors stop writing, but I am proposing that they make an effort not to “pollute” their previous works with additional drek…especially drek that contradicts or re-writes well loved concepts or ideas from the original work.

For instance, in the Riftwar saga Pug’s entire journey involves unlocking more and more magical power but in later books Feist seems to completely eviscerate the entire “system” he had created by attempting to reframe the entire concept of magic as being wildly misunderstood by almost everybody…it’s the midichlorian problem basically.

I think authors should write as much as they want…I just wish they wouldn’t revisit and ruin what they previously created.

With regards to Feist, as much as I loved the Riftwar Saga, his Empire books were even better. Maybe it was the co-author’s contribution? Dunno.

Wasn’t it his wife who co-authored those? The Empire books were good too, but the four original books are the best. I thought the second series of those were pretty good, too.

Guy Gavriel Kay - terrific characters, new worlds every time. Great stories. One deriative but still very good trilogy to launch his career <he was editing Tolkien with Christopher Tolkien at the time> and since then nothing but goodness

Yeah. I was thinking specifically about him when I wrote that. Starting with Tigana his stuff has been fantastic. Though I do understand that some of his later books are set in the same world. I’ve only read Tigana, Song for Arbonne and Lions of Al-Rassan. I have the Sarantine Mosaic on deck to read next.

It was his friend, Janny Wurts, not his wife. And yeah, they were kind of cool. He’s said he’d never do that kind of thing again, though, because collaboration is HARD.

Yeah, they really worked well together. I tried reading Wurts’ main series (Curse of the Mystwraith or something) and it put me to sleep but Feist and Wurts work on Empire was definitely greater than their individual work, including Magician.

Haven’t read Conclave, but his Serpentwar series kind of started out that way too. Hell, I loved the second book in that “Rise of a Merchant Prince” just because I found an entire book focusing on the Krondor stock market a rather ingriguing change of pace from most fantasy. But by the third book of that series, the “destroy whole worlds by waving their hands” guys were back in full force.

I used to be on that Feist fans listserve too and to be honest, it probably did more to put me off of him than anything else- he kind of came off as an asshole. I was on Tad Williams’ listserve at the same time and, in contrast, he was a class act.

Heh, yeah me too. I quit the list because the signal/noise ratio was too bad (like, oh, every listserv ever) and the one person who I was interested in hearing from kind of came across as a jerk. I also made the mistake of asking “Do we really need another fantasy-themed MMO?” when he announced his Midkemia-based MMORPG a while back (what’s up with that, anyway?). Several folks on that list jumped all over me for daring to express an honest opinion and doubt the fantastictude of anything REF was involved with. That’s the kind of thing I was thinking of with the echo chamber comments.