Long Series

There’s two main ways a long series can decline, I’ve found.

The two are:

  • Type 1: The author’s heart isn’t in it. It’s continued for financial or just sunk-cost thinking reasons, it might be farmed out to ghostwriters who only care about the paycheck, and there’s just less passion.
  • Type 2: The author has become successful and/or confident enough that they can go hog-wild, any editorial or self-restraint goes out the window and the whole thing can turn into a vanity project the writer likes more than the readers.

Note these are not incompatible (author is tired so they make it more ridiculous to help themselves through it…), and Type 2 can shift into Type 1 pretty quickly.

Having read all 27 (!) books in Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist series, it devolved into Type 2 around the tenth or eleventh book once it kept going past a good stopping point and stayed there for the entire rest of the series.

Harry Potter got hit with Type 2 pretty hard after the third book, in my opinion, while a lot of mystery novels tend to become Type 1-as did Janet Evanovich, sadly. (I loved one of her early Stephanie Plum novels despite not being the target audience, but looking at a later one showed she’d lost her touch)

 

Two Big Challenges With Long-Running Series

Long-running series have two large issues that I feel are somewhat, but not always inevitable. The first is the “Elite Republican Guard” (named after Bill Hicks’ famous Gulf War joke), and the second is “Arkansas vs. The Blimps” (which I named after a Twilight 2000 module).

The Elite Republican Guard involves the antagonists, or antagonist situations, getting less credible as the series goes on. Arkansas vs. The Blimps involves them getting more outlandish. The two are not incompatible.

 

FICINT

I have to say this about the FICINT concept after seeing some of it being mentioned. I can see its appeal and use, but I have concerns. So I’m going to sound like I’m more negative on it than I actually am. I’m not against speculative fiction or applying it to real-life possibilities in the slightest.

Where I do have wariness comes from my decade-long consumption of bad fiction. In short, my biggest feeling of caution comes from this: There might be survivorship bias at work. Because my experience reading everything from alternate history timelines to 90s technothrillers is that for every hit, you get a lot of misses. For every Hector Bywater, you get a ton of invasion novels that were as inaccurate as they were overwrought. And that holds true whatever the period. There’s also getting a wrong impression from fiction (a technothriller having an overly optimistic portrayal of high-tech gadgetry, to give one example) or treating stuff that’s still meant to be narrative-first as some kind of counterfactual prediction.

I don’t want to strawman or sound like I’m being more critical than I am. In fact, studying the misses of speculative fiction writers could be just as important and insightful as looking at the hits, if not more so. So I’m not against FICINT, I just think it should be applied cautiously and with a study of past failures as well as present speculations.

Good Writing Music

Good writing music is frequently long, ambient, and low-intensity, for lack of a better word. It’s just noticeable enough to distract you from the outside world while you write, but not prominent enough to take attention away from the writing itself.

There are exceptions, of course, but I’ve gotten a lot done listening to relaxing instrumental music.

Reading Red Army

So I read Ralph Peters’ Red Army, one of the fewer classic World War III novels I hadn’t read yet. A part of me doesn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. This is better-written than many of its contemporaries and well-intended. It isn’t just the grit of the battles that works, but how Peters, unlike so many other writers in the genre, goes light on the technical terminology. It still has a little too much viewpoint-hopping, but flows well. In that, I’m reminded of Team Yankee doing a similar thing, and both books are good “counters” to each other[1].

However, I still have some criticism. A lot of the characterization is done through telling and not showing, and while the viewpoint hopping is smoothed over, it still exists. Also, I think the two main parts of the book are at cross-purposes. The intent is to tell a ground-eye-view story that humanizes the Soviets and a cautionary tale of how NATO could lose. They don’t quite gel, and a lot of the high-level viewpoint characters are infodumpers that make it a little ham-fisted.

The last major comment I have is that the book has a lot of its power lost when read by a history enthusiast several decades later. All the “classics” have this issue too, and it’s not the fault of their writers. But the big “punch” of this is a softball to someone who already knew about the issues that plagued NATO for its entire Cold War existence that the book brings up.

But this is still a worthy Cold War Hot novel that any enthusiast should pick up. I still recommend it.

[1]IE, two good but fundamentally different Cold War novels, idealized American vs. ideal Soviet, star-spangled spectacular American win vs. gritty Soviet win. The readable but horribly erratic Chieftains (let’s say I’ll just be talking more about that book later) can’t quite serve as Coyle’s foil. This can.

A genre I’d never write?

So, for the August 2018 #TheMerryWriter challenge started by Ari Meghlen and Rachel Poli, the second day’s question was “Is there a genre you would never write?”

It was a tough question to answer. My tastes are incredibly varied already and can change a lot. A desire to move away from fire-eating hyperbole on my part made it even harder. Finally, the vague nature of what constitutes certain “genres” at all makes it tougher.

I don’t want to say I’d never write a certain genre, but certain ones are lower on my priority list. The one I tweeted was “classic Westerns”. I’ve never been terribly interested in them past watching The Magnificent Seven as a child, and if I’m not into reading them, then writing them, well, yeah.

However, a lot of genres I would gladly write-the adventure genre, part of the “cheap thriller” genre I love, has been clearly inspired by classic Westerns. So genres are not easy to separate.

Other genres low on my list:

  • Outright horror, especially cosmic horror. Not really for me, but I can see the appeal.
  • Contemporary romance. For the most part I’m not in the demographic, so that’s pretty self-explanatory.
  • Mysteries. Argh. The problem is a spectacular true crime book by The Wire creator David Simon called Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets. With that being as piercing as it is, traditional mysteries look especially formulaic and unrealistic. That being said, I do like the concept more.
  • Zombies. At least shambler zombies. Too often they become a “theme park apocalypse”.
  • Urban Fantasy. Fantasy overall is fairly low, but urban fantasy is even lower. I like it in theory, it’s just too often I see it falling. It might just be me seeing poor examples, but I think a lot of the time it tries to have its cake (modern relatable characters and the fantastic!) and eat it too (too neatly segmenting off the societies), and that annoys me.
  • Legal thrillers. I’m not a lawyer, self-explanatory.

This is of course my personal taste and I have nothing against the genres or anyone who likes them. And my opinion could very well change again.