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Old 12-26-2019, 09:51 AM   #1
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This is not a review

There are a number of different posting styles. Some are declarative, i.e. this is what I consider to be truth and I'm not willing to entertain any disagreement. While I suspect that sometimes some of my posts may come across that way, I tend to prefer open ended discussion which may or may not go in a direction that I had initial desired.

One of the downsides to reviewing a specific book, is that many times, it doesn't lead anywhere. The poster says this is what I thought of the book and that's about it. A few posters might say, ok thanks, I'll give it a try, or I liked it also, but actual discussion tends to be limited. But many times, I'm more interested in certain aspects of the book, author or some general trend that the book is an example of than I am in the book itself.

I read a book this week by an author, C.J. Carella. While I enjoyed the book, I'm not as interested in the actual book as some of the broad trends in that book that I see in this style book in general.

The book itself is basically a fairly standard indie SF, i.e. US in a universe full of bad guys in space. The basic plot line is embassy under siege on a low tech planet, i.e. 55 Days in Peking, set in outer space. The author seems to be a fairly standard successful indie writer, i.e. someone who would have been a mid-tier writer 20 years ago. IMPO, while the book was a fun read, Caralla doesn't have what I like to call the story teller gene, one of the broad trends that I want discuss.

First trend - the use of a historical event as the basis for a book. Once again, one sees this all the time is SF. Weber's Honor Harrington is loosely based on the British admiral Nelson's career. I've read a lot of books loosely based on the Battle of Roark's Drift (or more commonly, based on Zulu a popular movie that was based on the Battle of Roark's Drift which included numerous inaccuracies, but was a great movie). I've read a couple of books based on the Boxer Rebellion, but this was the first book where the book seemed to be more based on the movie 55 Days in Peking, a movie based on the Boxer Rebellion, but like Zulu, had numerous inaccuracies for dramatic effect.

Second trend - The story teller's gene. This is something I've mentioned before, but it's kind of hard to pin down. Some writers are simply good story tellers. These are the writers whose books I read and re-read, because a large part of the joy isn't finding out what happens, but how the story is told. In the martial arts we like to say that the point isn't the end goal, but the journey.

With this book, while I enjoyed the book and have already bought book 2 of the series, odds are pretty good that I'll never re-read the book and that I'll lose interest in the characters after the first couple of books. I've read a lot of authors like this. Sometimes they are authors who wrote a few books but never caught on, other times they are authors who have a bunch of books, usually different series that seem to simply peter out rather than reach a natural conclusion. I tend to view them as filler waiting for my favorite authors to put out a new book.
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Old 12-26-2019, 12:22 PM   #2
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I fee you. I wrote recently about how an Orson Scott Card book that turned out to not be an OSC book. I didn't figure that out until after I finished it and relooked at the cover. It had all the plot points of an OSC book but didn't have that "magic" I feel when I read his work. His characters always reach me deep inside.

My foray into indie SF and thrillers this year has made me appreciate my favorite authors even more. It's not that the books have been bad, they just didn't rise up to my favorite authors of the genre.

But, as I ready 50+ books this year....I'm starting to have a better appreciation of the value proposition of the indie books. You get what you pay for...and that's not a bad thing.
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Old 12-26-2019, 04:50 PM   #3
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Well, so much for the point of this is not a review. Heck, I didn't even mention the name of the book. Sigh.

I had hoped it would be the starting point of a discussion of books that retell famous stories or events or the idea of story teller verses author and how they are different. Ah, well.

Yea, authors are authors, be they traditional publisher or indie. I tend to think of this sort of author as a mid-tier author. Looking at my book case, it's loaded with paper backs by authors like this - Rick Shelley, Michael Stackpole. ( as a note, once I buy the ebook for a book I have in paper, I tend to take the paper book and put it in a plastic storage bin. It's probably time to get a couple more bins and purge my book case again. I'm probably down to less than 500 books that I haven't replaced. The only books that I actually throw out are old computer books that have no real use anymore. I did donate a bunch of hard backs to a local library).

I'm not particularly cost sensitive when it comes to buying books as in I don't really have a budget that I try to keep under. If I see a book of interest I buy it. On the flip side, I'm a lot more likely to buy a book by an unknown author that looks interesting, but doesn't reach the "Wow, I have to buy this" level if it's only $4 than I am if it's $20. Of course, I do tend to not waste a lot of time trying to grind through a book that I don't find interesting. I can make more money, I can't make more time.

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Old 12-26-2019, 07:36 PM   #4
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The second trend that you call "story teller's gene" I think of as "voice". I can't really call this a trend, it's always been like it for me. There are some authors whose voice I just enjoy hearing in my head. I can pick up almost any of their books and immediately feel at home. Sometimes the plots aren't particularly amazing, sometimes there are obvious holes, but for some authors it just doesn't seem to matter.

But when you're not enjoying the ride, the voice your head, you have too much time to think about the holes, the thread-bare plot or whatever. So you pick at things that seem like the reason you are not enjoying the book but really it's just that you don't care for the voice. Like, back to school and university days and that intangible quality some teachers had to keep your interest while others sent you to sleep.

For me voice is what best explains why popular author x doesn't work for me. Or why some people don't like some books that I think are as close to perfection as it comes.


Your first trend speaks of using historical events as a basis for a book. I am think it is simpler and more general that: most books are based on (or inspired by) what has gone before, be that movie, or real events, or successful fiction. I suspect that many times a book might be based on a book based on another book or real events - and so on ad infinitum - making it difficult for an outsider to tell where the author started from. And I also see this as a fact of life rather than a trend. Sure there is lots more of everything being published now, but so many of the cheap paperbacks I bought years ago were the same story told by someone different - and so unmemorable that if I saw the books today I would have no idea if I had read them before or not. Even looking through the non-fiction I purchased as a kid, I see books that are virtual clones (be they about aeroplanes, dinosaurs or whatever).

So I'd have to ask if what looks like a specific trend is just a reflection of the sheer volume that is being published now. Yes there is more, but perhaps not proportionately more?

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Old 12-27-2019, 08:57 AM   #5
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Trend doesn't necessarily imply something new or even different, just that it's something one might see a number of times. Certainly neither trend is new. I do think that certain aspects of re-framing an event in a new setting allows the author to take a few short cuts. Since they have a basic framework of events already, they don't have to start from a blank page.

Of course, with all the volume of books now, there is a lot of copying going on. It's not particularly new, but it's a lot more obvious now. The same author has a series of books set in a superhero universe. It's pretty easy to look at some of the characters and think yea, that's suppose to be Superman, that's suppose to be Ironman. This one seems to be MC meets X-Men. It seems to be one of the sub-genres that is popular with indies, a bit like zombie books.

As far as the story teller gene goes, I suppose I could be persuaded to think of it as author voice, though I do think it's more talent than voice. It's a bit like how a successful comedian can tell a joke and everyone laughs, I tell the same joke and I'm the only one laughing. Yea, not everyone thinks that particular comedian is funny, and comedy definitely involves craft, but if you don't have the talent, you aren't going to be successful. It's kind of like the difference between Uncle Joe who tells funny jokes at the family reunion and watching Robin Williams do a stand up routine.
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Old 12-27-2019, 11:08 AM   #6
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"necessarily imply", no. Usually implies, yes. But I keep forgetting you use a different dictionary to me.

Perhaps naively, I like to think of talented as an unbiased description. To allow for my own bias I am forced to admit other people's opinions, so - for example - if you tell me author x writes what you think are good stories then I am satisfied that the author is talented whether I agree the stories are good or not. I am not naturally inclined to use the phrase "good story teller" except as a subjective description. But if you did mean "Some writers are simply good story tellers." in an unbiased (as far as this is possible) sense, then yes that fits with talent better than voice (as I understand those terms).

But with "Some writers are simply good story tellers" as a synonym for talented we are then forced to discuss whether natural talent can be improved upon. I am on the side that thinks it can be (wishful thinking, perhaps ), so it's no longer "simply good story tellers" it is "have learned to be good story tellers". Can anyone learn? Maybe not, but I think some can.
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Old 12-27-2019, 12:27 PM   #7
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Well, so much for the point of this is not a review.
Well...I didn't THINK I was off course. OSC is a great story teller IMHO. It's not just the genre he writes in that I like. He actually has a few outside SF and I've read and enjoyed them just as much (not including is specifically religious mormon books that I have zero interest in reading).

So he collaborates to some degree with another person doing the writing. It's the same OSC typical story plot but the telling of the story is nowhere near as good IMHO.

My limited experience with the Indie books from Amazon is that they are, to a large degree, genre formula books. I am such a sucker for them because Amazon has figured out my genre preferences and sends me constant marketing for these Indie books. Reading the cover, the artwork, the title, the book description....they all are very attractive to me.

But in reading these books....even though I've enjoyed most of the....there is a definite lack of the "story teller" excellence. They don't develop the characters nearly as well. They don't "put you in the scene" nearely as well. They don't build up the tension and then deliver. It's "jump right to the orgasm without much foreplay". Some have even been single timeline. A->B->C->End of book
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Old 12-27-2019, 05:12 PM   #8
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This is an interesting discussion and I agree with the OP on the placement issue.

But what the hoo, what the hay, what the diggledy-daggeldy day. The discussion thus far is quite interesting.

Can natural talent be improved upon? is an interesting question.

I think if one looks at, say Robert Silverberg, one can definitely say he blossomed in the 70s and became an important writer of genre fiction. He improved in his ability to tell a story and to move his characters upon the stage.

One could even argue for the late- lamented boob-trespassing, microphone-engorging Harlan Ellison. (Although, in my opinion, age and incipient senility finally caught up with him.)

Moving out of the 'SF gutter', mainstream authors too can improve upon their storytelling - when money doesn't get in the way.
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Old 12-27-2019, 08:30 PM   #9
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Dr Drib. one of the things that makes it difficult to measure an author's improvement over time is that the public often doesn't get to see where they started. For example, by the time most trad' pub authors are actually published they have already written a lot. (Some Indie published authors might be publishing the first thing that appears on the screen, so over time they might offer better source for scientific study of this phenomena. )

I was interested to read a couple of the collections put out by Terry Pratchett (A Blink of the Screen, and Dragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Stories) that gave glimpses of some of his earlier writing. In amongst these are ideas that obviously became more fully fledged works later (eg: Rincemangle, the Gnome of Even Moor becomes Truckers of the Bromeliad trilogy). If ever I needed convincing that even the best authors get better with work, this was it.
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Old 12-28-2019, 12:39 AM   #10
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It is possible that the 'storytelling gene' or 'voice' of a particular book just doesn't resonate with a given reader as well. I once tried to read "The Great Gatsby" and just couldn't get into the story. Does that mean that F. Scott Fitzgerald doesn't have talent? Hardly. His books are still read by many I'm sure. I'm just not one of them. Just as some people will get the punch line of a joke and others just look bewildered. A book that captures my interest may or may not capture the interest of someone who I either recommend it to or who sees my review at say Goodreads or Amazon. I think the reader's ability to visualize what the author intended (while they read a book) is not only just a matter of a good imagination, but also of them being on the same wavelength if you will as the author. I have no siblings and so can't entirely understand what it's like to grow up with other kids in the same house and contrary wise someone who had siblings growing up can't really entirely understand what it's like to be an only child and likewise sometimes our view of the world meshes with the author's view and sometimes it doesn't. If it does we are more likely to enjoy the story and if not then we may not enjoy it as much or may even put the book down and find something else to read.
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Old 12-28-2019, 03:25 PM   #11
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Well...I didn't THINK I was off course. OSC is a great story teller IMHO. It's not just the genre he writes in that I like. He actually has a few outside SF and I've read and enjoyed them just as much (not including is specifically religious mormon books that I have zero interest in reading).

So he collaborates to some degree with another person doing the writing. It's the same OSC typical story plot but the telling of the story is nowhere near as good IMHO.

My limited experience with the Indie books from Amazon is that they are, to a large degree, genre formula books. I am such a sucker for them because Amazon has figured out my genre preferences and sends me constant marketing for these Indie books. Reading the cover, the artwork, the title, the book description....they all are very attractive to me.

But in reading these books....even though I've enjoyed most of the....there is a definite lack of the "story teller" excellence. They don't develop the characters nearly as well. They don't "put you in the scene" nearely as well. They don't build up the tension and then deliver. It's "jump right to the orgasm without much foreplay". Some have even been single timeline. A->B->C->End of book
Actually, it was more directed towards the decision to move the thread from where I started it (General Discussion) to Reading Recommendations. No, your post was on target. You do have a different view or spin on it, but the point to trying to start a conversation _is_ to get different views and spins on various ideas. To quote from the movie "That's how we learn, boy".

As far as your point on the indie writers, that is exactly what I mean. Some of that is craft, i.e. learning how to tie the scenes together better, but a lot is talent.

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Old 12-28-2019, 03:35 PM   #12
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"necessarily imply", no. Usually implies, yes. But I keep forgetting you use a different dictionary to me.

Perhaps naively, I like to think of talented as an unbiased description. To allow for my own bias I am forced to admit other people's opinions, so - for example - if you tell me author x writes what you think are good stories then I am satisfied that the author is talented whether I agree the stories are good or not. I am not naturally inclined to use the phrase "good story teller" except as a subjective description. But if you did mean "Some writers are simply good story tellers." in an unbiased (as far as this is possible) sense, then yes that fits with talent better than voice (as I understand those terms).

But with "Some writers are simply good story tellers" as a synonym for talented we are then forced to discuss whether natural talent can be improved upon. I am on the side that thinks it can be (wishful thinking, perhaps ), so it's no longer "simply good story tellers" it is "have learned to be good story tellers". Can anyone learn? Maybe not, but I think some can.
Of course, one has to improve on natural talent. It doesn't matter how good of a natural musician you are if you don't learn how to make music and practice. That's the craft side of talent. If you read the story of how To Kill A Mockingbird came about and how different the final version was from the original transcript, one sees how even a gifted story teller needs craft.

Can some learn to be a good story teller? I would argue that not everyone can, thus the story teller gene, but many can learn to be an adequate story teller by honing your craft. I'm a reasonable guitar player, but no matter how much I practice, no one is ever going to mistake me for Mark Knopfler. I can write lyrics well enough to put out some amusing songs for the company Christmas show, but not much past that.
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Old 12-28-2019, 03:46 PM   #13
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This is an interesting discussion and I agree with the OP on the placement issue.

But what the hoo, what the hay, what the diggledy-daggeldy day. The discussion thus far is quite interesting.

Can natural talent be improved upon? is an interesting question.

I think if one looks at, say Robert Silverberg, one can definitely say he blossomed in the 70s and became an important writer of genre fiction. He improved in his ability to tell a story and to move his characters upon the stage.

One could even argue for the late- lamented boob-trespassing, microphone-engorging Harlan Ellison. (Although, in my opinion, age and incipient senility finally caught up with him.)

Moving out of the 'SF gutter', mainstream authors too can improve upon their storytelling - when money doesn't get in the way.
Smile when you say 'SF gutter', pardner! [is there an emoticon of a gunslinger ready to draw? btw, I hope the reference isn't too obscure]

Absolutely mainstream authors can improve on their storytelling. For example, IMPO, Tom Clancy improved on his craft a lot before he got to be such a big name that he started just churning them out. Of course, part of improving your craft is getting feedback on the craft. That's where an editor comes in handy. You can get the same sort of feedback from beta readers, but it takes a lot of self discipline going that route. A beta reader typically tells you that sometime doesn't work. A good editor tells you both that something doesn't work and _why_ it doesn't work.
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Old 12-28-2019, 03:55 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by gmw View Post
Dr Drib. one of the things that makes it difficult to measure an author's improvement over time is that the public often doesn't get to see where they started. For example, by the time most trad' pub authors are actually published they have already written a lot. (Some Indie published authors might be publishing the first thing that appears on the screen, so over time they might offer better source for scientific study of this phenomena. )

I was interested to read a couple of the collections put out by Terry Pratchett (A Blink of the Screen, and Dragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Stories) that gave glimpses of some of his earlier writing. In amongst these are ideas that obviously became more fully fledged works later (eg: Rincemangle, the Gnome of Even Moor becomes Truckers of the Bromeliad trilogy). If ever I needed convincing that even the best authors get better with work, this was it.
To drift back into the 'SF gutter' , if you go back and read David Weber's The Apocalypse Troll, I think it mentions in the fore ward that this was one of first, if not the first, book he wrote, though it wasn't published until almost a decade after his first published book. Even polished up a bit, there is a noticeable difference between it and say his first Honor Harrington book.
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Old 12-28-2019, 04:02 PM   #15
pwalker8
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It is possible that the 'storytelling gene' or 'voice' of a particular book just doesn't resonate with a given reader as well. I once tried to read "The Great Gatsby" and just couldn't get into the story. Does that mean that F. Scott Fitzgerald doesn't have talent? Hardly. His books are still read by many I'm sure. I'm just not one of them. Just as some people will get the punch line of a joke and others just look bewildered. A book that captures my interest may or may not capture the interest of someone who I either recommend it to or who sees my review at say Goodreads or Amazon. I think the reader's ability to visualize what the author intended (while they read a book) is not only just a matter of a good imagination, but also of them being on the same wavelength if you will as the author. I have no siblings and so can't entirely understand what it's like to grow up with other kids in the same house and contrary wise someone who had siblings growing up can't really entirely understand what it's like to be an only child and likewise sometimes our view of the world meshes with the author's view and sometimes it doesn't. If it does we are more likely to enjoy the story and if not then we may not enjoy it as much or may even put the book down and find something else to read.
I'm not trying to say that anyone who has the storyteller gene writes books that everyone enjoys, just that there is a noticeable different between someone who has the talent and someone who doesn't. Of course, I suspect that someone with the talent (and desire) can probably do just as well writing in various genres. Are JK Rowling's mystery books as readable as her Harry Potter books? Certainly they aren't the big hit that the Harry Potter books are, but I can't say that I've read her mystery books. Perhaps I should try it just to see. There are other authors who seem to be able to move between genres. To a certain extent, I would compare this to acting. Some actors can move between roles quite easily, others have trouble doing so.
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