The Bait the Fish Refuses

I mostly buy books from Amazon, but I was looking at the SF and fantasy section today in the local Borders.

I confess I find some new SF and fantasy by its packaging. Is the title interesting? The spine design catchy? I’ll pull it out and read the back blurb.

Here’s where you lose me. If the back blurb on a fantasy title has any place, people or person named with an apostrophe in it, I’m almost certainly gone. Ap’zolonului? Gone. Ba’amaruteenza? Gone. Gth’mordan? Gone.

I might buy the book if that stuff isn’t screaming at me from the packaging, and heck, I might even like it.

Other things that are likely to drive me off:

1) “Book One in the Dark Swords of Black Terror Trilogy”.
2) Mostly, if the word “vampire” appears anywhere in the cover, title or blurb. It stops being “mostly” if “vampire” appears in the same blurb with “elf”.
3) Titles or blurbs that contain the name of a fantasy kingdom that sounds more like a prescription medicine for depression or impotence.
4) Anything that contains three of the following four elements in the blurb: plucky but innocent young heroine, farmboy with a destiny, dark lord of evil, wise ancient wizard. “Handsome voodoo priest” is a bonus demerit.
5) The word, “Drizzt”.

This entry was posted in Books. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The Bait the Fish Refuses

  1. Doug says:

    Drizzt: Vampire of Zimb’abwe
    (Book One in the Dark Swords of Black Terror Trilogy)
    By Ti’mothy B’urke

    Growing up just outside the imperial capital of Ha’rare, plucky but innocent Drizzt had little notion what would happen when she went into the fields with Drazzt, a farmboy with an appalling destiny. Their fates entwined by elfin servants of an unknowable power, one will rise to be a dark lord of evil, the other a wizard of ancient wisdom. Along the way, she must face the consequences of her eldritch thirst for blood, combat the forces of the Paxil and Elavil (both of whom would enslave her people and thwart her destiny), outwit the cunning V’iagra and understand whether her desire for B’radpitt, the handsome voodoo priest, is the fulfilment of ancient prophecy or simply insatiable lust. (SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE!)

  2. emschwar says:

    Tim, you have GOT to read Diana Wynne Jones’ “The Tough Guide to Fantasyland”, if you haven’t already. She has quite a lot to say about such books, and explains in fairly good detail how horses reproduce asexually, and why everybody is so poor (short answer: no piles of shit mean no bacteria to decompose them, which means no fertilizer, which means poor crop yields…) and so on.

    Personally, I’d add anything that smacks of being a franchise book– which, alas, these days includes everything with Anne McCaffrey’s name on it. I know there’s a huge market for that stuff– my mother-in-law will read ANYTHING that says “Star Wars” on it– but I’ve yet to get myself to even read Tim Zahn’s stuff, and he’s supposed to be *good*. L. Neil Smith ruined it for me with his horrible Lando Calrissian books (though even they had some decent parts).

    Also, I’d just like to point out to Doug that they’re making a movie of the first Dragonlance book. Did you know (I didn’t) that there are *150* books in that series? ONE HUNDRED FIFTY. Explain to me, please, anyone, how that is possible. Even Thieves’ World gave up after, what 12? (though I just found out they started again in 2002, so make it 15.) And even they were pushing it at the end.

    Now there’s another good one: If it says “Dragonlance” on the cover– heck, if it says “TSR” or “Wizards of the Coast”, and it’s not a sourcebook, it’s going back.

  3. Timothy Burke says:

    I have the Jones about two feet from me right now: a great book.

    Yeah, I could also add McCaffrey’s name to the list. In fact, I hate this entire model: dead or near-dead author with franchise rights becoming the co-author to a child or collaborator as a way to extend the life of the franchise. It produces, in general, total rubbish. I hasten to add it’s not a new development: there were a zillion Oz books written after Baum died, sometimes marketed in the same way as if Baum was a co-author. (Though I like Eric Shanower’s Oz graphic novels quite a bit.)

    I actually read some of the Star Wars books, the ones that were about the goobers who were somehow invulnerable to the Force. They weren’t uniformly terrible, a couple weren’t half-bad, but they weren’t great, either.

  4. withywindle says:

    I rather liked the Ruth Plumley Thompson (sp?) Oz sequels when I was growing up. In retrospect, a bit formulaic, but wonderful at the time.

    Sadly, my own novels trip one of your alarm bells. Though I rather think you might enjoy them if you took a look.

  5. Timothy Burke says:

    Hey, like I said, I’ve enjoyed some things that trip the alarm bells. Experience has just taught me that something with a vampire elf who comes from a kingdom with an apostrophe in the middle is likely to be pretty bad news.

    Now if it’s “Drizzt”, there’s not much than can be done.

  6. lknobel says:

    When Tolkien was reading a draft of The Lord of the Rings to a meeting of the Inklings, one person in the room is reputed to have groaned, “Oh, God! Not another elf.”

    You clearly would have sympathized.

  7. Timothy Burke says:

    Some attribute the quote to Hugo Dyson, others A.N. Wilson.

    But in all seriousness, there is a difference between Tolkien having elves and the 8,000th generic work of fantasy having elves. And of course, having elves is not a sin if it’s done right (elves in the blurb alone I do not reject).

  8. kmunoz says:

    Does that include apostrophes that actually function properly, e.g., as glottal stops?

  9. Timothy Burke says:

    Naw. But how often do they in knock-off fantasy? Most of the time they’re just there as a lazy way to try and exoticize a person or place name.

  10. laurel says:

    How do you know if the apostrophes are glottal stops or lazy exoticizing?

    I’d add a wise and exotic nomadic people to the list of problematic elements.

    Would you be interested in making a list of fantasy/sci-fi you recommend? Because I’m having a hell of a time finding much that’s not deathly boring, unbelievably pretentious, and a thinly veiled Tolkien rip-off.

  11. Timothy Burke says:

    You know when they’re glottal stops when there’s a worked-out language in the fantasy setting. E.g., Tolkien. Otherwise, it’s just a bit of D&D wankery.

    Sure, I should make recommendations. Coming soon to a blog or drive-in near you. Wise and nomadic people, bad, yeah.

  12. skmehta says:

    Okay, I have to say, I am surprised you can walk safe on SWIL’s campus, saying things like this! Excellent blog.

  13. “Otherwise, it’s just a bit of D&D wankery.”

    Hey, there is lots of wankery much worse than the D&D kind.

  14. kit says:

    on the subject of useless apostrophes: this, and later on the same page.

    one author whose occasional apostrophes i overlook, because she’s so good, is c. j. cherryh. check out the chanur books. i say this having last read them before highschool, but i suspect that were i to reread them, i’d still find them good.

  15. withywindle says:

    Victor Borge’s Saga?

    For an acquired taste in pulp SF, I’m rather enjoying Leigh Brackett’s stories right now. I don’t think they would fit everyone’s fancy, but they’re quite good at what they do.

  16. Timothy Burke says:

    Useful pages, Kit.

    See, I have no problem with someone deciding to use an apostrophe in exotic or alien names if it’s about a consistent understanding of what that punctuation signifies. The romanization of lots of human languages has entailed either use of marks or decisions to represent sounds with letters that make very different sounds in English. In chiShona, for example, “sv” and “zv” as written in roman characters make a very distinctive sound (“s” or “z” with tongue pressed against the top front of the mouth). In Zulu or Xhosa, c q and z all signify click sounds.

    It’s just that when I read a blurb and the apostrophes sound instead like a totally derivative, random way to signify the exotic, I think to myself, “oh, dear, this is likely to be total crap”. It might not be so: I have enjoyed some fantasy works whose names are derivative but whose plotting or characterization is not. But the hook doesn’t set if I think I’m about to pick up something that’s sub-Terry Brooks in its originality or readability.

  17. mskorpe1 says:

    skmehta: In general, I’d say most SWIL members agree with this entry! I’ll admit to reading bucket-loads of crap fantasy, but that is mainly because I want light stuff after doing my political theory reading…

  18. kit says:

    re: the links, zompist posts lots of interesting stuff, just not often enough :)

    as a conlanger, linguistics major, and huge nerd, i’ve given a large amount of thought to orthographies in fantasy and sci-fi novels, and incline towards the “go with a pronunciation/spelling mapping that will be familiar to your readers, because they WILL pronounce it as they see fit, even if you put a convenient guide in an appendix.”

    on the other hand, i honestly haven’t read anywhere near broadly enough in the genres to have any idea how good orthography for made up names correlates to quality.

  19. Doug says:

    And watered-down medieval England as a social model? Can we give that a five-year exile?

    Even if you’re going to write your fantasy based on some adaptation of medieval or early-modern Europe, there’s lots more on that palette than just the southeast part of Great Britain. (GG Kaye has done this a few times, I think, but they’ve struck me as too close to be really inventive. The Byzantium pair was, iirc, the life of the emperor Justinian tarted up with a little magic. It didn’t do enough for me to read the second book.)

    Although I’ve invested probably too much time in the series, I’m still not enthusiastic about George RR Martin’s set, because the setup is too historically transparent. Ok, here’s England, here’s Scotland, here are some vague Vikings, across the sea there’s sorta Mongols, and oh yeah, the first king is a dead ringer for Henry VIII and one of the main point-of-view characters is so close to Richard III as portrayed by a particular Elizabethan playwright that it’s a good thing Shakespeare is public domain. It’s gotten a little better as it’s gotten longer, but my oh my what a collection of cliches for books that have had such good reviews.

    Meanwhile, I’ve said numerous times that fantasy publishers are leaving humongous piles of money on the table by not picking up the rights to Henryk Sienkiewicz’s trilogy and giving it the full-press marketing treatment. It’s only one of the best adventures ever written, and it only has a 100-year track record as a bestseller. Really, this should not be hard for a publisher; it’s even a trilogy already.

    (ps More dislikes? I need a little more than “wise and nomadic people” to write the blurb for Book Two in the Dark Swords of Black Terror Trilogy.)

  20. Timothy Burke says:

    I think Martin has been pretty clear that the War of the Roses is his template. At least that helped him to round out the characters, introduce lots of treachery and plotting, and starve out the Galahad-complex.

  21. withywindle says:

    Any thoughts on Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls? Set in a thinly disguised fifteenth-century Spain, where the map, literally, is an upside-down Iberia. Rather good, I thought. Also, the Hallowed Hunt, the same fantasy world, I think meant to be Lower Saxony.

  22. Doug says:

    That pair sounds interesting! Will have to fire up Amazon or similar, though, as anything other than absolute bog-standard SF is hard to find in English in bookstores Over Here.

    I seem to remember the same thing about War of the Roses. It’s still warmed-over England.

    Drizzt Unbound: Onto the Vasty Plains
    (Book Two in the Dark Swords of Black Terror Trilogy)
    By Ti’mothy B’urke

    Less innocent but still plucky, despite the doom that came to Drazzt, the spritely vampire leaves the teeming warrens of Ha’rare for the nearby Vasty Plains to pursue her destiny. With the Paxil and Elavil both held temporarily at bay by the lords known only by their initials FDA and those lords’ power of Yrotaluger Weiver, Drizzt has time to learn more about her hidden nature and the unsuspected facts about her parentage. In an empty country where they turned back time, Drizzt follows the drumbeat strains of the night’s remains to a series of encounters with the Al’tai, a wise nomadic people of unlikely stature.
    (SEE THE HBO MINI-SERIES. WORLDWIDE AUTHOR TOUR OF F’INLAND.)

Comments are closed.