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Friday, May 26, 2006

Is anyone else as pissed off as I am with "Mainstream" publishing?


I guess I should elaborate on that inflammatory title.
I'm talking not just as an author, but as a reader.
I've been to the bookstore recently, and is it just me or are all the new releases "best sellers" and other so-called "Mainstream" offerings these days nothing but synthesized product delivered to appeal not to the reader but to the Lowest Common Denominator?
Books like "The Crimson Code" pop out at me; not only the title but the "teaser" (and presumably the whole novel) an obvious riding-on-the-coat-tails-and-copying-as-much-as possible-without-legally-being-plagirism of "The Da Vinci Code", a book, which itself, was already very formulaic and derivative?
I've identified one such formula used as the back bone across several genres, from speculative fiction thrillers like the aforementioned Da Vinci Code, as well as the spy / police / thriller novels of the incomprehensively prolific authors like Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum (who strangely enough continues to write books years after his death) Nelson DeMille and John Grisham.
I call it the Ludlum Formula:
"Ordinary Man" becomes "Reluctant Hero" placed in "Extraordinary Situation". "Bystander Woman" gets swept up as "Events Unfold", "Casting Her Lot" in with Ordinary Man. "Shocking Plot Twists" make Ordinary Man and Bystander Woman question "Who They Can Trust". "Last Minute Race To The Finish" makes for "Reader Excitement". "Book Ends" with Ordinary Man and Bystander Woman either "Getting Married" or "Getting Laid".
Grisham's noveld usually follow a similar storyline: "Small Town Lawyer" or, alternately "Small-Time Lawyer" takes on "Case Bigger Than Him". At this point, "Sanctimonious Opposing Lawyer" or "Showboat Opposing Lawyer" or possibly "Corrupt, evil Lawyer" enters the picture and complicates things. Throught the novel, we're peppered with either or both "Lawyer Backstory" and "Victim / Plaintiff / Defendant's Backstory". The latter depends entirely on who the Small-Time Lawyer happens to represent.
Then comes the "Dramatic and Frightening Interlude" in which our hero is either "Attacked or Pursued", always depending on the context of the case.
Add your usual assortment of twists and turns and then the inevitable legal showdown, followed by the consequences and / or conclusions. Being a Good Southern Gentleman, Grisham usually tries to impart a Strong Moral Lesson tied in at the end of the novel.
The formulae for fantasy and science fiction is even easier these days, given that almost everything out there either seems to involve a Fallen Kingdom and a Reluctant Hero on an Epic Quest, or a Galactic Alliance or Galactic Empire either Struggling To Survive the Alien Foe, or alternately Fighting To End a revolutionary war.That's assuming the book isn't part of a franchize of recurring characters, television adaptations, RPG or videogame adaptations, or continuing "legacy" series from old, original sci-fi novels, written during a time when sci-fi really WAS "Speculative Fiction".
And is it just me, or is everything that is non-genre and just slightly better than the "mainstream", both genre and non-genre is so goddamn highbrow that it only appeals to pseudointellectuals, college professors or people who otherwise enjoy the trappings of elitism?
I mean, am I just utterly cynical? Or does anyone else see the same thing?

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