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Old 08-30-2014, 07:43 AM   #1
Waylander
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Are Baen books really that bad?

I was perusing the Guardian Books section yesterday, as it is the only newspaper with a decent book section not behind a paywall, and came across an article about the rise of new Space Opera. The article was the usual tone from this particular journalist, who seems to sneer at anything other than lit-fic and poetry. However, near the end I came across this:

Quote:
Today space opera is a battlefield for competing fantasies of the future. As America plunged in to renewed militarism after 9/11, sci-fi books again began to mirror real-world wars. Baen books specialises in works of "military SF" that, behind their appalling prose styles and laughable retro cover designs, speak to a right-wing readership who can recognise the enemies of America even when they are disguised as cannibal lizard aliens. Baen's chief editor Toni Weisskopf went so far as to issue a diatribe against any and all sci-fi that did not pander to this conservative agenda.
Now, far be it for me argue that Baen books are high literature, and that they are all brilliantly written, but in my opinion (and this is just my opinion, feel free to disagree with me) they are not all as bad as this journalist makes out. His objections seem to stem from the fact that some of the authors don't share his political world view, in which case why even mention Baen in the first place? Here is a link to the full article for you to look at, as it is otherwise quite interesting.
http://www.theguardian.com/books/boo...illary-justice
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Old 08-30-2014, 07:49 AM   #2
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Their covers are appalling. It seems to be the house style. However, Lois McMaster Bujold's books are superb. Start there if you want to avoid the sorts of books they're denigrating here. (And yes, Weisskopf did do that, more or less, in the wrangling in the lead-up to the Hugo voting, but that probably belongs in the Politics & Religion forum.)
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Old 08-30-2014, 08:03 AM   #3
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Travis Taylor's books 1. Warp Speed and 2. The Quantum Connection are pretty good reads. There is a flavor of the military about them but not that bad I think. Both were (and may still be) available free if you can find the CD images of the old Baen books. I don't know if they are in the free section at the Baen website though.
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Old 08-30-2014, 08:21 AM   #4
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It's a tricky one. The characterisation of Baen doesn't seem totally unfair, but it doesn't mean I don't enjoy reading some of their books.
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Old 08-30-2014, 09:01 AM   #5
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Fully agree with DrNefario but that doesn't mean that Baen should be boycotted ! And I do enjoy some of their books even if they might be considered militaristic... And then, so what ? Who should decide what I should read ? ;-)
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Old 08-30-2014, 09:13 AM   #6
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There's nothing inherently extremist-right-wing about military SF as a whole! I read and enjoy plenty of it, and I'm about as leftie as it comes.
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Old 08-30-2014, 09:20 AM   #7
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I have to admit, I'm kind of old school. And I'm a fan of David Mattingly's artwork. So I don't know that I consider all of Baen's covers particularly bad; although they are very 80's in style.

And Lois Bujold is an amazingly talented writer and a nice person. I'd also call her not particularly right-wing at all, to say the least.
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Old 08-30-2014, 09:21 AM   #8
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I've never really tried any of their books, except for some older titles that they have reprinted. Nothing against them really, but judging from their book summaries, there nothing much that appeals to me.
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Old 08-30-2014, 09:55 AM   #9
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I didn't know that the long-running 1632 series by Eric Flint or David Weber's Honor Harrington series were right-wing, 'Murica f-yeah!, conservative sci-fi. Color me surprised.
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Old 08-30-2014, 10:04 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ereadingdotcom View Post
I have to admit, I'm kind of old school. And I'm a fan of David Mattingly's artwork. So I don't know that I consider all of Baen's covers particularly bad; although they are very 80's in style.

And Lois Bujold is an amazingly talented writer and a nice person. I'd also call her not particularly right-wing at all, to say the least.
Pretty much all US SF covers look garish from this side of the Atlantic. A while ago, someone posted the original cover of Farewell Horizontal by KW Jeter, and I was amazed to see that it still looked garish to me even though it was exactly the same image as my UK version, simply because it used a different text style for the title. The Baen ones are pretty pulpy, though.

I'd say Bujold is a special case, and obviously not all Baen writers are going to fit that description, but it seems like a fair assessment of the editorial ethos.
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Old 08-30-2014, 11:21 AM   #11
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You know, I'm about as left-wing as American liberals can be and I still buy Baen books. There is plenty of quality work in their catalog, even in the military sf section.
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Old 08-30-2014, 11:29 AM   #12
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Okay, here's how it runs:

1- Jim Baen purposefully positioned BAEN as a specialist in old-fashioned Adventure SF, with no pretensions. "Getting SF back where it belongs... in the gutter..." was one joking description of the approach.

2- Classic adventure SF has always been militaristic. And BAEN got its start just in time to benefit from the 90's surge in Military SF. 9/11 had nothing to do with it--they were doing it since the last century.

3- Since Adventure SF is, like most SF subgenres, very broad in scope, Baen tends to give its authors a lot of latitude. Despite being "specialists" in adventure, they find room in their catalog for high fantasy, urban fantasy, alternate history, techno-thrillers, and straight action adventure. Spoof and whimsy is allowed, romps encouraged.

4- Given the focus on classic adventure it should be no surprise that Baen has been steadily acquiring and publishing classic SF from the likes of Heinlein, Laumer, Schmitz, Goodwin, Chandler, Anvil, Hamilton, Pournelle, Niven&Pournelle... There is a lot of material in the catalog that a serious student of the genre needs exposure to.

Turn a blind eye to Baen and you're missing a whole section of the genre.

So, as to this latest teapot tempest: Baen gives its authors a lot of latitude in envelope pushing, both in genre borders and content. A cross between regency romance and bioSF? No problem? Cautionary tale about extended war between civilizations? Sure. Pushing the bounds of what an anti-hero can do? "Let's see what happens." seems to be their attitude.

Of course, pushing the envelope is going to annoy people.
And the attitudes and mindsets that made Harlan Ellison's DANGEROUS VISIONS *necessary* 50 years ago is still quite common in publishing. Baen has several authors in their catalog whose blatant opinions (and stories) offend some people who would like to see them muzzled. And since Baen doesn't muzzle them, as other publishers routinely do, they take it out on Baen.

I have no idea if the Baen execs agree with their authors, disagree, or just tolerate them.
I don't care. Their job is to find and deliver entertaining reads at a good price. Most of their controversial books I've found to be perfectly fine entertainment, with a bite on the side.

I like stories with bite.
I don't like muzzling authors.
There I stand.
Buy or don't buy according to your taste but don't get in the way.
Live and let die.

Last edited by fjtorres; 08-30-2014 at 11:33 AM.
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Old 08-30-2014, 11:55 AM   #13
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I've read some of Baen's output and have enjoyed it. It just seemed a rather harsh take on the company, particularly as it was the only publisher specifically mentioned in the article. It was as though it had been single out for contempt by the article's author. I kind of though he missed the point about the covers, as I always thought they were a combination of an homage to classic sf and a tongue-in-cheek take on it, but he just used them as a way of saying "these books have crap covers, have (supposedly) crap prose, and worst of all in my view, some are written by more conservative writers". Whether he's actually read any of the books I don't know. It's not even like I'm a rabid libertarian myself, but it just seems like he tarred all Baen's books with the same brush.
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Old 08-30-2014, 02:20 PM   #14
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"Trying to muzzle challenging voices"?

Wow, it's easy to recast criticism in a favourable light.
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Old 08-30-2014, 02:43 PM   #15
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Let's also take moment to recognize that Baen has always been a supporter of DRM free ebooks.

Baen has quite a few excellent authors (Bujold, Spoor, Gannon), a lot of enjoyable authors (Hoyt, Weber, Taylor, Flint...) and a few bad authors (Ringo, Kratman). They also have an excellent back catalog of classic science fiction authors like Kutner and Schmitz.
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