Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 22:47 on 09-11-2011, Ibmiller
Well, I would recommend Zahn's original trilogy and his two-book follow-up, as well as Allston's X-wing books to most scifi fans, regardless of whether they like tie-ins or not. And Thrawn, in the original three novels, is pretty cool (though not perfect, as valse points out).
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at 22:10 on 09-11-2011, Janne Kirjasniemi
Of course a question would be whether one would recommend any tie in novels or stories to someone else. As it is, I've been considering the Star Wars EU for a while, because Grand Admiral Thrawn seems to crop up everywhere as some special class of awesome villain. I believe it's written by this Zahn person, so would it be worth the effort to tangle one self in that or would it be more prudent to stick to something properly "good". I always thought that Drizzt was pretty cool when it was just action motivated by some of Drizzt's idiot friends getting into trouble. Don't know how it's going on nowadays.

There was a thing on N. K. Jemisin and David Anthony Durham in Salon today. Perhaps I'll read Jemisin instead seeing as she's nominated for an award and I can get contemporariness points reading that.
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at 18:52 on 09-11-2011, Ibmiller
It is kind of funny - but in a Sherlock Holmesian way, which tickles my fancy. Plus, I liked the kickass redheaded assassin chick. I generally agree about Clancy and Crichton - though I've only read one each. But the general idea of a military scifi author who likes twisty plots and writes workmanlike and not spectacular prose is the point, I think. I don't think I'd class Zahn as trashy at all, so maybe those two weren't good comparisons.

Here's the Allston story: http://www.baen.com/library/0671876627/0671876627.htm Hopefully the fact that it's published by Baen won't put you off.

"interesting/complex ideas" sounds good - though to me, it's the characters who sell it or not.
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at 18:26 on 09-11-2011, valse de la lune
And, so I don't come across as completely ungracious, I tried to look for Allston's free online thing but could only find links directing me to buy it from Amazon or B&N?
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at 17:54 on 09-11-2011, valse de la lune
I've read Zahn. The one where Admiral Whatshisface deduces all military tactics and everything about a culture ever from viewing art pieces. That's never stopped being funny to me and unfortunately it's the only thing that stuck with me years after having read it. I haven't much interest in Crichton or Clancy, since they strike me as--well--trashy. Probably trashy fun, to some people, but their books don't sound like what I'd find engaging.

Silk's the one I have been reading in fits, actually. It's ridiculously gothtastic but much more promising than The Red Tree, which I read halfway through but didn't much like. Her work with The Dreaming was remarkable too (and even in a comic, her language does stand out, though again she seems to have this thing for goths and fringe subcultures). Probably worth noting that within the first few pages Silk gives you a lesbian couple and two boys making out. Inclusivity and quality of prose may be separate issues, but tie-ins do desperately lack both.

I've been talking to a friend and I'd like to revise "thoughtful themes" and exchange it for "interesting and/or complex ideas." That gets across what I look for in fiction I read for fun better.
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at 15:38 on 09-11-2011, Ibmiller
Have placed holds on Silk and Wise Children - hopefully will finish them and be back for a comparison.

In the meantime, have you read any tie-in work by Timothy Zahn (Star Wars, Terminator, etc) or any of his original work? Or Aaron Allston (also Star Wars and Terminator, though his original work is a bit harder to find, and I've not read it - his "Doc Sidhe" is free online, but I haven't gotten sucked in yet). I would say that Zahn provides a fun, Clancy/Crichton-esque ride, while Allston writes humorous military scifi along the lines of a more self-aware Heinlein juvie. I don't claim them as "great" literature, but I do think there's some quite good character work done in both of them, and both of them think carefully about the worldbuilding, character, and moral implications of what they write. And I think both of them avoid the worst extremes of beige and purple prose. (Also note that Allston's last six Star Wars books were, I believe, ruined for any chance of being solidly entertaining by editorial decisions, so I would go back to his X-Wing books instead).
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at 12:01 on 09-11-2011, valse de la lune
I've read a lot of tie-in fiction, and a lot of original fiction, and when evaluating books, I start with whether I find them fun/engrossing and worry about depth (or lack thereof) second.


Awesome. So do I! You can probably appreciate, though, that the metrics of fun vary widely and--there's the false dichotomy again--that fun isn't something diametrically opposed to depth and substance.

As for themes, Harry Potter has themes. They just happen to be terrible, terribly executed, and some of them kind of repulsive. Ditto for Twilight. "Has themes" isn't some nebulous quality that confers great literary pedigree upon a work. I think I said something like "thoughtful themes" down a few posts back but the qualifier seems to have been lost.

It's also true that some works of original fiction have blown me away in a manner tie-in novels have not - but I've always figured that was because those were examples of exceptionally good writing as opposed to just good writing.


That's the thing though. Fervent, defensive SF/F fans can go "but look at Ursula le Guin, even Harold Bloom likes her!" when slighted by non-genre readers. I don't think tie-ins offer much you can point to as evidence of intelligence, literary merit or even anything that can be more than "amusing fluff."

Caitlin Kiernan writes what I consider good prose, even if I don't find anything else in her stuff that I've read so far very engaging. Angela Carter is pretty swell all around, but it's perhaps not fair to compare her to published Mass Effect fanfiction. I'm not sure what you are after, really.
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at 09:37 on 09-11-2011, Ibmiller
Nicely said, Robinson! Though I think I posted while you were posting, and then didn't check back till late (stupid papers to grade...)

I would also like to moot the issue of "what is derivative fiction," if anyone's interested. I mean, tie-in work is pretty clearly a commercially driven property, but there are a lot of professionally published Sherlock Holmes, Jane Austen, King Arthur, and the occasionally more difficult to find Narnia, Shakespeare, and Virgil fanfic. Okay, yes, I consider the Inferno fanfiction (to some extent...but then, I think the Aeneid is kind of Homeric fanfiction, so I'm clearly beyond all reason).
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at 08:33 on 09-11-2011, Shimmin
I've got to confess a lingering affection for Eddings. Partly because the whole Belgariad is just silly enough to entertain me, and partly because it's so tropetastic that it requires very little engagement of brain. Although I'll admit some disappointment at the bits where I thought he was doing something interesting and then gave up abruptly ('interesting' for however old I was when I first read them, anyway).
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at 23:37 on 08-11-2011, Arthur B
I'd actually say Robinson's "engaging" might be a better term to use than "fun to read". There's plenty of books which are not "fun" in that they aren't light-hearted romps, but are still incredibly readable and compelling page-turners, even though the actual prose is workmanlike at best.
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at 22:46 on 08-11-2011, Ibmiller
Grammar fail...
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at 22:45 on 08-11-2011, Ibmiller
I second Arthur's "fun to read" distinction, and actually think that's why authors like Tim Zahn, Aaron Allston, on occasion Mike Stackpole, etc succeed more than writers like Troy Denning or Matt Stover (though Stover is, depending on taste, possibly the most "literary" of the Star Wars authors...though in my reading he's more pretentious and "dark, man, dark," not to mention a bit hypermasculine and sadistic).

Goodness...when was there tent sleeping? Why do our lovers need something as sheltering of a tent. SLEEP AND CUDDLE IN THE OPEN! Let those wild animals run right over you! You're level 20, darnit!

I have to admit, though, my "Star Wars does have good books" argument is kinda flimsy if I restate it as "Star Wars has good books from the past ten years." The last book I would consider rereading/fun to read is from the New Jedi Order, circa 1998/2002. Wow, it's really been that long.
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at 22:39 on 08-11-2011, TryCatcher
Me, fanboy? Heh.

I see a lot of "Stop liking what I don't like" in here. The whole "hurr durr Gaming is art" is ridiculous, I'll admit, but come on.

Real people, not the kind of mouth-breathers on the Bioware forums, where even the Bioware *employees* put their weight on characters having sex, will tell you that videogames is something that they play because is fun. End of the story.
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at 22:36 on 08-11-2011, Robinson L
I've read a lot of tie-in fiction, and a lot of original fiction, and when evaluating books, I start with whether I find them fun/engrossing and worry about depth (or lack thereof) second. (I admit I rarely notice whether prose is good or bad, and in general I'm pretty rubbish at spotting themes.)

So maybe I'm now outing myself as a person completely lacking in taste (or maybe just someone who hasn't read widely enough) but as far as "fun to read" goes, I honestly cannot detect an appreciable difference between the tie-ins I've read versus the original fiction I've read. I guess the tie-ins do tend more proportionally to be shit (Deceived isn't even the worst Star Wars novel out there, though it's close), but my enjoyment of reading the better ones is about on par with my enjoyment of reading original fiction. It's also true that some works of original fiction have blown me away in a manner tie-in novels have not - but I've always figured that was because those were examples of exceptionally good writing as opposed to just good writing.

If you don't mind, valse, could you recommend a couple books which you do consider to be examples of "good writing"? I'd be interested to take a look at one or two and see if I can discern in my own mind what elevates them above my favorite tie-in books.

valse: I didn't even need any slash goggles for this. Wonder if it occurred to any of the fanboys?

Dan: It actually gets better, the next line is "Revan's mind began to assemble bits and pieces from the previous night."

Oh this is too, too good. I am going to have so much fun with this book when it comes out.
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at 22:09 on 08-11-2011, Dan H

I didn't even need any slash goggles for this. Wonder if it occurred to any of the fanboys?


It actually gets better, the next line is "Revan's mind began to assemble bits and pieces from the previous night."

I've got to admit, Revan Canderous does make a *lot* of sense.
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at 21:39 on 08-11-2011, valse de la lune
There is one way to enjoy Karpyshyn writing:

Revan woke from the dream with a start, his mind groggy as he tried to get his bearings. It was cool in the thermal tent he and Canderous shared. The insulated lining kept out the worst of the weather, but the nighttime temperatures were still low enough that Revan felt a chill through two layers of clothes
and his sleeping bag.

As his eyes adjusted to the soft glow of the small heater in the center of the tent, he was able to make out more details of his surroundings. Canderous was still asleep beside him, wrapped tightly in his sleeping bag and snoring loudly.


I didn't even need any slash goggles for this. Wonder if it occurred to any of the fanboys?
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at 21:02 on 08-11-2011, Dan H
If a book, even a tie-in book, is "fun to read", which I would call amusing and interesting enough, then is fine to me.

Not every book has to be super serious and explore DEEP themes. Relax


As several people have pointed out, the issue arises because (a) a lot of trashy books are not *even* fun to read (chapter 3 of Revan seems in essence to be a bunch of exposition copy-pasted from the original KotOR, and not very *well* copy-pasted) and (b) a lot of fanboys whine about not being taken as seriously as things which do deal with DEEP THEMES, or insist that the stuff they like *does* deal with DEEP THEMES (c.f. the Games Are Art crowd).

The responses on the SWTOR thread I'm most confused by are the ones that go "why do you care if a book is well written" - which I fear says a great deal about the educational system these people came through.
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at 19:18 on 08-11-2011, valse de la lune
If a book, even a tie-in book, is "fun to read", which I would call amusing and interesting enough, then is fine to me.

Not every book has to be super serious and explore DEEP themes. Relax.


You'd think that pointing out a false dichotomy would prevent someone--barely a few posts later!--from riding in, fanboy-guns a-blazing, to berate you using the very same false dichotomy. Beautiful. Bravo.
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at 19:06 on 08-11-2011, Arthur B
No, I don't think you were either, but many writers cited as fun and unpretentious I find incredibly unfun and banal (and sometimes actually pretentious: see Salvatore and his hideous attempts to tackle racism--come to that, I'd characterize pretension in this context as "trying to achieve something intelligent and failing." Success excuses the sin).

Yeah, the only thing worse than a third-rate author not trying hard is a third-rate author who's also a tryhard.

I'd agree with the definition of pretentiousness there - at any rate, pretension requires pretense, and if you're actually delivering the real deal then there's no pretense involved.
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at 18:44 on 08-11-2011, TryCatcher
If a book, even a tie-in book, is "fun to read", which I would call amusing and interesting enough, then is fine to me.

Not every book has to be super serious and explore DEEP themes. Relax.

But then, I like Warhammer 40k. I don't like Bioware much because a)I find their writing pretentious and b)Reading relationships that seem to be written by Joss Wheldon makes me feel icky all over. Brrr.

About comic books, their main problem is that they are written by ad for 40-year old fanboys. There's hasn't been a compelling character on the big two (Marvel and DC) since The Punisher. So yeah.
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at 18:43 on 08-11-2011, valse de la lune
No, I don't think you were either, but many writers cited as fun and unpretentious I find incredibly unfun and banal (and sometimes actually pretentious: see Salvatore and his hideous attempts to tackle racism--come to that, I'd characterize pretension in this context as "trying to achieve something intelligent and failing." Success excuses the sin). The "baseline of quality" for some readers is utter rock-bottom, too, or Eddings wouldn't have been as successful as he was. Or Paolini, or the rest of the pack.

Back to the tie-ins: their fans and authors remind me a bit of gamers who want the medium to be taken seriously because fuck those ivory-tower academics, man, gaming too is totally deep and respectable abloo bloo bloo Bioshock is sophisticated damn it. While at the same time they don't want to earn it. Writers don't try, readers don't criticize nor expect anything better than Gaider and Karpyshyn. They want to be accepted just as they are--tedious, shitty, not particularly clever--while being hailed as just respectable as the western literary canon by the same ivory-tower types they pretend to so detest. Pretty amusing.

And now, off to roast those fan reactions to Karpyshyn and no doubt attract more whiny dipshits to my blog. TROLLING SEASON IS UP, BROS.
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at 18:25 on 08-11-2011, Arthur B
I didn't have any fun when trying to read, say, Kemp's Deceived though. No matter how "fun" or unpretentious it is, the writing can be so bastard-shit-awful that there's no enjoying it in any way. Obviously this threshold varies.

I wasn't trying to defend any individual author. :) Besides, "fun to read" is actually hard. It requires at least a certain baseline level of quality (which probably varies from reader to reader and from context to context) which is much trickier to achieve than it looks.

I'm sure you recognize as well as anyone that "fun to read" and "ART, MAN, ART" aren't two mutually exclusive things.

In principle, in theory, of course they're not mutually exclusive. In practice, not every author is going to have the chops to attain both, in which case I'd prefer to read a book which reached for fun and succeeded than reached for artistry and failed.

And whilst neither I nor you believe in the dichotomy - hell, I rate Jack Vance as being the gold standard in fantasy prose, and he's both a master of language play and the opposite of pretentious. But there's plenty of authors who do believe in the dichotomy, and you can tell they believe it because it's reflected in their work and the shit they say about it.
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at 18:08 on 08-11-2011, valse de la lune
I didn't have any fun when trying to read, say, Kemp's Deceived though. No matter how "fun" or unpretentious it is, the writing can be so bastard-shit-awful that there's no enjoying it in any way. Obviously this threshold varies.

whose work would be greatly improved if they stopped trying to make Art and just aimed for fun, with any narrative style experiments or evolving themes or language play as an optional by-product of the writing process rather than being the point of the exercise.


I'm sure you recognize as well as anyone that "fun to read" and "ART, MAN, ART" aren't two mutually exclusive things. Ditto for the suggestion that if you are trying to do something interesting with narratives/languages/etc you must be pretentious, whereas if you don't try at all you must be down-to-earth and fantastic fun at parties. These false dichotomies do come up a lot in this kind of discussion, though. Shame, really.

Abercrombie and Morgan try to do themes? That's pretty lulzy. I was barely aware of any such thing while reading the First Law tripe or Morgan's sex scenes, what with those exceptionally springy breasts. Sanderson I refuse to read on the ground that he believes his own very average-sounding, highly conventional work is "postmodern" (and deconstructionist, too--whatever he thinks that is).
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at 17:13 on 08-11-2011, Arthur B
To be fair to tie-in authors, I'd say "fun to read" is a respectable achievement in itself, and can be a hallmark of "good writing" if you define "good writing" as "writing that achieves the effect that the text is presented as aiming for".

Goodness knows there are plenty of authors - in tie-in fiction and outside it - whose work would be greatly improved if they stopped trying to make Art and just aimed for fun, with any narrative style experiments or evolving themes or language play as an optional by-product of the writing process rather than being the point of the exercise. I have more time for Sanderson or Feist than I have for Abercrombie or Morgan because despite writing in more or less the same traditions Sanderson and Feist produce solid, unpretentious fluff whilst Abercrombie and Morgan produce fluff weighed down by hamfisted stabs at Themes.
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