Length Matters

It is generally accepted as fact that if your epic fantasy novel could not also be used to bash in the skull of a would-be intruder, it’s not nearly long enough. Of course, why the hell would you use a book to bash an intruder when your replica Drizzt Do’Urden scimitars are mounted right there on the wall? You know you feel like a badass holding those bitches!

Like movies and commercials and lines at the Apple store, books have gotten longer. Especially Fantasy books. It’s like authors all took that “epic” word to heart and decided that their book had to be sprawling and sweeping and other words of grandeur (if I had time to lookup a thesaurus) in order to justify someone plopping down the cash. Or, in many cases, they just couldn’t shut the hell up with the prose. I don’t need to know what fucking everyone ate! I’m looking at you, Martin!

Now look, you may really like giant, thousand-page opuses. You may be the type who ignores any book under eight-hundred pages because you expect truly epic fantasy. Which is great for you, because the publishers pretty much insist on it. The average word count on an epic fantasy book is quite a bit higher than most other genres. But remember, most (if not all) epic fantasy today is released in a series or the classic trilogy. Why do we have to have every damn book in the series big enough to double as a child’s booster seat? Is it because no one has phonebooks anymore?

Me? I’ve really been enjoying some of the shorter books I’ve picked up recently. Books that clock in at three-hundred pages or even less. Of course, they cost less too, so I don’t really feel like I’m being ripped off. In fact, it’s a damn bargain compared to what I’ve paid for hardbacks over the years. I would much rather read a trilogy whose total clocks in at a thousand pages than a single book that’s a thousand pages. Got more story to tell? Start another trilogy.

Why, you ask? What’s the difference? Well, I don’t have as much time as I’d like for reading anymore. See, I’m a dad now. I have two kids. For those without kids, trust me, they’re an enormous time suck. Add to that a full-time job and other projects, and that doesn’t leave a lot of reading (or writing, if that’s what you’re into) time. So, for me, a book I can devour in a quick sitting or two is awesome. I’m not saying a longer read won’t be worth it, but there’s a good chance these days that I’ll have to put it down and get back to it weeks later if I get to finish it at all.

With the explosion of ebooks and self-publishing, books have gone on a diet. Little by little, they’re getting shorter. I love that. Does that mean there’s less story? Not generally, no. Those writers are just writing and releasing shorter works at a much faster pace. It’s a lot quicker to write, edit and release a three-hundred page book and then just start the next one.

Most of the big name fantasy authors are still putting out weighty tomes that you can use to flatten a chicken, and that’s great if that’s what you’re into. I want something that doesn’t require that big an investment of my time. I would rather read three hundred pages once, twice or thrice a year from an author than a thousand pages every three, five or six years. I’m looking at you, Martin!

A hundred thousand words in three books is just as long as a hundred thousand words in one book. I counted.

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Let’s Hope We Make it Through the Winter

This song pretty much sums it up.

 

I worry about Martin.  He’ll turn 64 this year, and while that’s not EXTREMELY old in the grand scheme of today’s life expectancy, he’s… well, how shall I put it?  He looks to be at high risk for Type 2 diabetes.  If he doesn’t hurry up, he’ll pull a Jordan on us, and winter will never come.

So please, George.  Take care of yourself.  Otherwise HBO will have to make things up and change the story to be nothing like the books.  And nobody wants that.

Fantasy

No, not the kind where you and your spouse dress up as Princess Leia and Boba Fett and make bad sex jokes about someone’s Sarlacc Pit. And not the kind where something from actual history is changed just to see what would happen (What if Hitler had invented a time machine and gone back in time to give himself the best Christmas ever?!). And not the kind where high school girls are banging sparkly vampires or making out during a zombie invasion. ‘Cuz, you know, that shit is hot.

What’s Your Fantasy?

When I say Fantasy, I mean Fantasy with a capital F. The kind most booksellers lump with Science Fiction and usually label together as “Science Fiction / Fantasy”. Like it’s really just one category of fiction and not two. Like we need a separate section for a special kind of geek that is a bit more unsavory than the rest of the fantasy readers. Never mind that I’ve rarely found readers that are equally fans of both genres. We usually tend to be a huge fan of one and just dabble in the other, like a drunk college girl at an all-girl sorority sleepover.

Fantasy is a label that gets applied with a pretty broad brush. Conceivably, any piece of fiction could be labeled as “fantasy”. I mean, it’s all fantasy. But to readers like me, that word means something specific. When you say you read Fantasy, you make yourself a marked man. Or woman to a lesser degree.

The boys outnumber the girls in this group by a factor of twenty to one. At least if my D&D table was a fair sampling. And we only had ten people. Which means we barely had half a girl. It was usually that one creepy guy who always played a female character and then hit on the rest of the male characters. It only got creepier when one of the other guys flirted back. And someone always flirted back. *shudder*

What I think of when I hear Fantasy is what most have lumped off into the nice, comfortable sub-genre called “Epic Fantasy”. The word epic is just their way of shoving us off. The story doesn’t have to be epic at all, though many are. Define it how you like, but it usually includes some form of wizards, dragons, elves, orcs, goblins, magic, etc…

My Harry Potter Fantasy

“You mean like Harry Potter?!”

Meh, sort of. Because Harry was a kid, they shoveled him off into the even more onerous (at least by adult standards) category of… Young Adult. Or, God forbid, Middle Grade. I’m sure you’ve heard someone saying how they were embarrassed to be reading (and enjoying) a Harry Potter book because it was a book for kids. Like they’d be totally ashamed and embarrassed if someone caught them reading it. This is pretty much how all epic fantasy fans are expected to feel about the books they read.

There are a lot of Fantasy fans who hate the Harry Potter books. I’m not sure why, but I think it has to do with the line between “hard” and “soft” fantasy (seriously, there are “hard” and “soft” fantasy fans, and they don’t mean arse play) and the fact that the books skew younger. It could also be because they sold really well. They were so popular, in fact, that the New York Times had to create a whole new list just for “children’s” books so that Harry Potter wouldn’t dominate the top spots of the regular list. Geeks shy away from all things popular. Popular things have a tendency to beat up unpopular things.

Popularity’s not necessarily a bad thing though. When other things become popular, they reach a wider, weirder audience and create a fan base the normal people pay more attention to. Like the short kid who eats his boogers, Harry Potter and Twilight fans drew fire away from the rest of us. Hate on Hogwarts if you must, but those “idiots” in robes and eyeliner lightning bolt scars standing in line made all the rest of us look tame by comparison. And thank God for ’em. Lord knows the Trekkies were due a break.

Me? I loved the Harry Potter books. Both as books I enjoyed reading as well as books that I have personally seen inspire young kids to read. And, specifically, read a genre that I love. It warms my geeky little heart to see ten-year-old kids reading Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. They might be like me and move on to Lloyd Alexander or Ursula K. Leguin or Anne McCaffrey (God rest her dragon-riding soul) and discover a lifetime love of Fantasy. Or they might read them when they’re younger and then grow up and decide that stuff’s just for kids and then punch me in the arm a lot until I run and tell Mom.

Unfortunately, popularity also breeds copycats like… well, cats. Suddenly you couldn’t turn a corner without seeing a book about someone from our world destined to save some other world. I wouldn’t get too bunched about it though. They’ve been doing that story for centuries. Stephen R. Donaldson did the same with The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Only with slightly more rape.

One Movie (in three parts) To Rule Them All

“The Lord of the Rings” (the movies, not the books) did a lot for our credibility among the masses. I don’t think it added any new readers to the genre or anything, but at least it made us all look less stupid to average folk. We could all point excitedly and say, “See! That stuff’s not just for kids! We’re not as lame as you think! Ow, my arm!”

But those movies were exceedingly popular. Which means they brought out the riffraff. You know who I mean. The ones who showed up dressed in cloaks, glued-on ears and hairy feet. Come on, guys. We’re trying to dig ourselves out here! And the ones doing the dressing up aren’t even necessarily fans of the books! This bunch of Theoden-come-latelies are making us all look bad, and they only know the movies! The real fans are the ones standing in line bitching about how Arwen has too much screen time and, “Where the hell was Tom Bombadil?! This is bullshit.”

Winter is Coming!  And death.  Lots and lots of death.

“A Game of Thrones” (again, not the books) is really boosting the genre now too.  George R. R. Martin’s truly epic A Song of Ice and Fire (you didn’t think HBO’s title was the actual name of the series did you?) has brought some people around to my world.  Hell, my mom is even reading them after watching season 1!  Again, I still don’t think it’s going to bring any new readers to the genre (except maybe my mom, but she only likes them for the sex).  But it is really cute to see old ladies asking for the books at the library.  I’m thinking, “You have NO idea what you’re getting yourself into there.”  It’s like the time my Nana wanted to rent “Pulp Fiction” from the Blockbuster Museum because, “I heard this was really good.”

All the Kids Are Beating Up the Kids Who Are Doing It!

Fantasy is what I read. It’s not ALL I read, but I’m definitely a genre reader, and it’s definitely my genre. Even with the help of the Harry Potters and the Percy Jacksons of the world, it’ll never be popular. I’m ok with that. I have my own kids, and I’ll force what I like down their throats like any good parent.

Even if, by some miracle, it does become popular (The Hobbit, Christmas 2012, bitches!), there’s always Steampunk. Though that’s been getting more play these days. It looks ripe for mass market. Those guys are gonna be pissed at all the money they spent on costumes once they have to despise it for going mainstream.