In the last year I’ve been realizing some growing trends that have made reading very difficult for me. Some of these trends have been in books that have gained popularity and the worst part of this is that these books become examples of good speculative literature when in reality they are not even good literature to begin with. We should not accept these trends, or allow these trends in any way to shape the direction of speculative literature. To do so could very well kill the genre, or at least kill its chances to be accepted by the academic world. It is already difficult for the literary academia to accept science fiction or fantasy as true literature and they will have no reason and no desire to accept it if they are forced to sift through dozens of books just to find one that is written well. So here they are (feel free to add to this):
- POV Violations
I’ve read two books now that violate POV. One time I can accept, even two times doesn’t bother me too much, but when it becomes common it drives me up the wall. I had to quit on a book recently because it constantly jumped around the POV in the midst of fight scenes and places where you have to be very focuses. I can’t stand it. What exactly has changed in our society to make this acceptable? Are we lessoning our standards? Why would an editor let this garbage slip by? Why would a writer or a copy editor let this slip by? Every time I see a POV violation in a book, I have to put that book down. POV has rules. If you’re not going to follow them, don’t write and while many rules can be bent, you still cannot expect me or anyone with a literary mind to take your work seriously or to even finish it if you randomly switch POVs. You can have multiple POVs without switching in the middle of paragraphs or scenes. As an example, read Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell (yes, I’m using you as an example again Tobias). Great use of POV. He doesn’t randomly switch in the middle of a scene, everything is divided appropriately so you know to expect a potential POV switch.
Follow the rules. They were made for a reason. Even literary fiction doesn’t break this rule…as a rule at least (play on words there).
- Unrealistic Fantasy
Fantasy writers, I think, have the hardest job of all writers. Why? Because they have to take something that isn’t real and never will be real. Science fiction writers are able to write things that could potentially be real; they have science behind them. But fantasy writers don’t have that luxury. At most they have access to medieval history, but that generally doesn’t help someone develop vast fantasy worlds like Tolkien.
Given that, a fantasy writer absolutely must make his or her world believable. The creatures in it have to make sense. Mostly this applies to fantasy for adults simply because adults, in general, don’t have the wild, illogical imaginations of children.
Unfortunately, some books don’t do this. They create creatures that are unbelievable. Four-winged dragons that have thoughts are not realistic. The only creatures on our planet that have four wings are insects, and insects can’t really think. Most birds are not intelligent in the sense that they have significant reasoning power. How is one to dispel disbelief if the very world he or she is trying to imagine doesn’t even make sense?
- Unbelievable Characters
This applies to all literature. Characters have got to be believable. We have to look at what they do by the end of the novel and understand the reason for it. Their actions must make some sense, even if we don’t agree with it. Even aliens must make sense so far as we have to understand that their actions are simply alien, but at the same time there is a reason for it that is logical to that alien species.
To sacrifice characterization for style should never be acceptable. Yet there are many books now out there that seem to ignore characterization. Why? Science fiction and fantasy are less about the worlds they are set in than about the characters that populate the story. Lack of characterization hurts the value of literature.
I think other people have had this issue with fantasy already. One thing that is really hurting fantasy is the series. There are countless multi-volume series out there, all going beyond a simple trilogy. People are going to get sick of it. Generally we all don’t want to have to wait until the next volume to find out what happens. And what about the unfinished series? The unfortunate thing about series is that it takes a long time to do. Robert Jordan left an unfinished series behind and so did Roger Zelazny. It’s unfortunate that those two authors died before finishing, but I also feel sorry for the fans who will never have closure to the story. Hence why shorter series–trilogies or quartets–or even single volume books will do much better in the future.
- Complex Science
The good side of science fiction is that it is constantly being renewed as science advances. The bad side is when science fiction writers let science get in the way of the story or even in the writing. Most people who read books are not scientists, most people who read science fiction are the same. There is no need to bog down prose with references to things that people won’t understand, especially if you don’t intend to make it clearer to the reader. Just because Quantum Physics makes a marginal amount of sense to you doesn’t mean it will make sense to your reader. The reader needs to understand.
That’s all I can think of right now. Any other ideas?