This is going to be a short one, but I feel like I should have something on the page until I have a more cohesive rant in mind.

Pick up a Terry Pratchett* paperback at any bookstore, and you will more than likely see the following review quote on the back cover:

“”Think J.R.R. Tolkien with a sharper, more satiric edge.”
Houston Chronicle

It is difficult to coherently expressive how infuriated I get over this innocuous little nine-word blurb, faithfully reprinted on every single Discworld paperback Harper-Collins produces; of course, since the entire purpose of this blog is to put righteous anger into words, I might as well do so. Simply put, comparing Terry Pratchett to J.R.R. Tolkien is the work of a man who has no idea what the fuck he is talking about.

The Discworld books are the textual equivalent of Monty Python; a more apt comparison in literature would be The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy for fantasy instead of sci-fi. Pratchett started out mocking fantasy tropes and clichés, but somewhere along the line his world established itself beyond a simple comedy prop; Discworld uses a fantasy setting to poke fun at and explore the human condition. He begs comparison to Jonathan Swift**, not Tolkien.

And yet the comparisons continue. Every single author who sets foot in the field of fantasy and approaches moderate success will be compared to Tolkien. That’s okay. It’s something that happens when people write fantasy, as inevitable as slash fiction and interminable message-board arguments over who the greatest swordsman in X setting is. It’s not worth The Finger.

No, what makes this blurb so utterly egregious is the reviewer’s total lack of concern for accuracy. One would be hard pressed to find two authors filed in the “Fantasy/Sci-Fi” section more dissimilar than Messers Pratchet and Tolkien. The prose, the characters, the message, the setting, the themes, the points on which the plot hinge – there is nothing to tie The Lord of the Rings to the Discworld books beyond the latter occasionally poking fun at the former – in which case, if you’re bound and determined to stay within the fantasy genre, you might as well compare Pratchett to Robert E. Howard or Michael Moorcock. Or theForgotten Realms roster, for that matter.

I won’t pretend to be outraged because a critic employed by the Houston Chronicle doesn’t read fantasy. Fucking shocker, right? What sets my most expressive digit twitching is a person who is lucky enough to be employed to do the following: 1) Read books. 2) Digest contents. 3) Inform other prospective readers of the quality, content and nature of said books. This person has a book before him that apparently falls outside his narrow scope, and he cannot be bothered to either educate himself enough for an apt comparison, or provide a useful and truthful description to readers. It’s lazy, and downright dishonest. Literature deserves better.

So, gentleman (or lady) from the Houston Chronicle, you receive The Finger. Not just because you don’t read speculative fiction – but because, faced with a book that happened to fall within that genre, you failed to comprehend it on any level and just dropped the only name you could remember. And because Harper-Collins sees Tolkien’s name and thinks money, I have to see your banal fucking quote every time I browse through the “Ps” in a bookstore’s fantasy section.

And upon reading this rant, I don’t think my life needs any more banality.

Next time, something slightly more important, like sandwiches with too much mayonnaise.

*The premise of this article is that you know who Terry Pratchett is. If not, follow the link!

**The premise of this site is that you know who Jonathan Swift is. If not, please stop before you hurt yourself.

If They Actually Do It

August 16, 2007

(Yes, I’m lazy and cross-posting.  Shut up.)

 OJ’s getting published after all.  Ugh.

Although, it seems like we might be able to put published in quotes.  Like this: “published.” 

When Sharlene Martin, the agent, announced that a New York publisher was interested and a deal had been reached, I wondered who on earth would pick it up, after all the hell that was raised when Harper tried putting it out late last year.  I couldn’t imagine, even in these days where any sensational news story seems to lead to a book being crashed into the list, that any of the big five would go anywhere near it.

Turns out none of them did.  The book is being published by Beaufort Books, a small press who, up until this book at least, splits the cost of publishing with the authors. 

Splitting the cost is a pretty way of saying the authors pay to be published.  Yog’s Law: Money flows toward the writer.  (Yog is author James D. MacDonald, who is always watching out for new writers in danger of being scammed over on the Absolute Write forums.)

It seems pretty shady – they took the splitting-the-cost blurb off of their website.  The publisher, Eric Kampmann, won’t even throw out a ballpark number for the announced first printing when asked in an interview with Publishers Weekly.   Something like this, I’d expect at least 100,000.  I don’t know how many Harper pulped, but it was at least that.

I have immense respect for Denise Brown.  How Kampmann could sit beside her on The Today Show and not be horribly ashamed, I can’t even begin to fathom.

The next question is, what are booksellers going to do with it?  It’s a tough question for all of them – whether or not to carry it, and if they do, how many copies?  Should it stay behind the counter or be put on display?  If they choose not to bring it into the store initially, will they be willing to special order it for customers?

There is absolutely a morbid curiosity factor to the whole thing.  I’d imagine there would be a good chunk of customers who would come into the store, flip through to the chapter where he describes the murder, and put it back on the shelf without buying it.  I also wonder how many people who would normally buy books from their local indie would instead order it through Amazon or B&N rather than be seen purchasing it.

This book was a bad idea.  It’s still a bad idea, no matter how much they’re trying to spin it as benefitting charities and becoming the Goldmans’ book.  Personally, I wouldn’t bring it into my store, if I had one.  I think I l would special order it for interested customers, simply because I hate the idea of telling people what they can and can’t read, but I’d be uncomfortable doing it.