Inexplicably popular books.

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The discussion in the VS. thread got me thinking about The Name of the Wind. I just cannot comprehend how a book like that can become so massively popular. Throngs of people praise it as a masterpiece with beautiful, poetry-like prose. I just can't understand it.

The main character, Kvothe, is arrogant, rude, and behaves like a psychopath. Despite these glaring character flaws, everyone loves him and he has loyal friends. In fact, he is only disliked by the antagonists, and they only hate him because they are jealous of his intellect, talents, and good looks. The side characters are all completely one dimensional and only exist to be impressed by Kvothe or otherwise create situations for him to show off.

The plot is non-existent. You could cut out 9/10th of the pages and not lose any character development or advancement of Kvothe's stated goals. The majority of the novel is an endlessly recycled subplot focusing on Kvothe's struggle to make enough money to pay for his student loans, despite innumerable skills and marketable talents. The framing story promises far more intriguing mysteries with demon spiders and the like, but rather, we spend the entirety of the 700 page book reading the biography of the worlds most boring living legend. It's obvious that this series will never have a satisfying ending judging by the abysmal plotting of the first entry.

People claim that the book is making some sort of meta statement with an unreliable narrator, but the Kvothe we see in the third person segments is just as perfect as the Kvothe who is narrating the first person sections.

And the writing is just so dreadfully cringeworthy.

It's just gibberish. Words piled upon words, not actually describing anything. 344 words used to convey the point that "it was unusually quiet." I could pick through and describe why any particular sentence is meaningless, but I'll suffice it to say that it all just makes me want to crawl out of my skin.

And yet, despite all that and more, this is a best seller. It rates 4.5 stars on Good Reads. I could barely bring myself to read all the way through, yet millions are clamoring for more.

It seems to happen so often. Utter drek becomes a massive critical and financial success. Twilight, Eragon, 50 Shades of Grey, Ready Player One, to name a few popular examples. How does it happen? Is the rest of the world just so poorly read that they can't tell good writing from bad? Or am I just crazy or too stupid to see the obvious genius that these works contain? Or is it all due to a master level marketing scheme, and the quality of the writing is, in fact, irrelevant? I don't know.

What books do you find inexplicably popular?

Only having read the Twilight series I can't speak for the other you've mentioned, but it's hardly inexplicable that that got popular. Been a while since reading it, but if I remember correctly:

A girl (with no personality whatsoever so the reader can imagine it's them, this was intentional) whose name means "beautiful swan" goes to a new town. Is she going to be popular? Yes, everyone loves her, especially the one guy who everyone cannot stop blathering on about how perfect he is. He's also super rich and lets her into this whole secret vampire club thingy. Etc. It's really blatant wish fulfillment stuff.

I once spent some time in a library sticking things onto the backs of romance novels and took the time to read the blurbs. All stuff about lonely old women that suddenly find themselves in love with mechanics from the wrong side of the tracks, and will their relationship survive the shocking reveal that he's really a secret billionaire? Maybe not great works of literature, but they've got their niche worked out really well.

Twilight is that, but more creepy, more effort from the author and a lot more lucky. 50 shades, of course, is infamously a Twilight fan-fic with new names.

There aren't that many works that I find inexplicably popular. For instance, Twilight. I've read some of the first book, and I can understand why it's popular with teenage girls - Bella is a blank slate that the (female) reader can project herself onto, and a hunky guy who's also a vampire and, like, really awesome, falls for her, despite being over 100 years old, because she's just so special. None of what I've said makes the book GOOD, but it does explain its popularity. And before anyone says anything, I don't really begrudge Twilight that. Everyone is free to indulge in their own fantasy.

Drathnoxis:
Eragon,

Okay, I'm gonna say it - I don't think Eragon is actually bad.

Note that when I say "Eragon," I'm referring to the Inheritance Cycle as a whole. If we're discussing the first book, then sure - the writing is basic, and the plot is taken from other works. But the series does improve over time, in terms of its writing, and in its worldbuilding. I mean, Paolini was only 15 when he wrote the work - what did you write when you were 15? And if we're criticizing Inheritance for ripping off fantasy, there's plenty of fantasy works that have started off ripping off LotR (Shannara, Wheel of Time, etc.) before becoming more distinct.

Ready Player One,

Simple - it's fan service to 80s kids. Fan service that bored me to tears, but fan service clearly sells.

I think the novel has promise in areas, but paradoxically, it's at its best when showing us the real world, as to how bad things are, and how plausible the situation described could be - world's falling apart, and despite that (or because of it), all people want to do is play videogames and consume pop culture from the previous century. Also, the book shows some self-awareness, but not enough to call the book an inditement on what it's writing about.

I don't like RPO (I did like the movie though), but it's easy to understand why it's so popular.

What books do you find inexplicably popular?

Not including children's stuff (again, being at a library gives me a good inkling of what "kids these days" are into):

-Kingkiller Chronicle (for the reasons you described)

-Shannara (okay, thing is...Shannara isn't GOOD (for me). Yes, it became slightly more distinct post-Sword, but having read a number of volumes, the setting isn't that interesting, and it's really repeating the same plot over and over.

-His Dark Materials (okay, here's the thing - I'm irreligious. HDM should, in theory, appeal to me, because it has a very negative view on religion (Abrahamic mostly, but you could apply it to religion in general), and isn't afraid to show it. But I just don't like it, and I'm not sure how anyone does. For people who believe religion is a force for good, they're not going to enjoy this. People who have a negative view on religion however, I'd have thought wouldn't get much out of this anyway because the book has the subtlety of a brick in conveying its ideas. I mean, take the Chronicles of Narnia - yes, you can see the Christian subtext, but can just as easily enjoy the books without the subtext. HDM however, offers you no such subtlety, and the result is that I like Narnia much more (Last Battle aside). Also, Lyra's such an irritating character that Will being introduced was a, ahem, "Godsend," but third book? Nup. More Lyra. :( )

-Wheel of Time (no, seriously, I don't get it. I've read the first three books, they're okay, but to generate the fan fervor it does? WoT starts off as LotR-lite, then becomes its own thing, but I can't really describe what that "thing" actually is. It's like some weird middle ground between LotR and A Song of Ice and Fire, and doesn't satisfy me, yet apparently, satisfies enough people that it has its own convention)

-Tomorrow (I've never liked this series, or rather, I read the first book and didn't bother after that. Oh yay, some unidentified Asian country invades Australia, and kids go Wolverines! and...yeah, I don't care. Its message is confused, the ambiguity doesn't help, and I don't care about the characters, but apparently this book series was on reading lists at some point)

-War and Peace (...yeah, I didn't get it, though that probably says more about me)

-Heart of Darkness (again, I get why, but has anyone actually READ this? Dear God, it's a slog)

Sure I can name more, but that's off the top of my head.

Edit: Also, anything by Tom Clancy (or one of his ghost authors) or Dale Brown.

Seriously guys, look at the back of the cover, and it's like a computer wrote it. As in:

-Good Guys: USA

-Bad Guys: Russians/terrorists/Chinese

-Inciting Incident: Nukes/virus/underground tunnels in a bid for world domination (yes, really)

-Cool Shit: Mechs/fighters

-Go kill the bad guys

I mean, okay, fantasy and sci-fi use tropes as well, but Christ, I can't help but look at these books and laugh. Only Tom Clancy is a really popular author, and Dale Brown has been called the next Tom Clancy, so what the heck do I know?

I'll also add The Expanse.

As I've said, this series does one thing very well - the worldbuilding. However, worldbuilding will offer diminishing returns over time, especially when that worldbuilding is confined to a single star system. Otherwise, what's left? Characters? Fine. Writing? Fine. Plot? Fine. The Expanse is, for the most part, just...fine. So why is it so popular?

On the flipside, I really like the TV series though.

Oh I actually blasted through the two books in the kingkiller chronicle a couple months ago. Kvothe is a great char because he is just unlucky enough that his amazing genius and talent just barely suffice to keep him from dying. I think his time in the slums and the trauma of his troupe's end have just damaged him which goes a long way to explain his negatives. It's not like people don't see that he's behaving like you describe, it's that they find it understandable than he would behave like that given what he's been through so they don't mind it.

It sounds like you've only read book 1 but in the second one you see him go in more adventures so he's less bogged down by trying to make enough money for the magical academy. Though yeah, this story isn't trying to be a huge epic like the Stormlight Archive, it's more of a personal tale so you have a lot more mundane stuff happening. I guess I can see being let down if you expect to read about epic tales and now about lutes and stuff lol.

Oh and I read Eragon back many years ago when it was new, I don't remember much of it which I guess is a point against it but I do remember it fondly. Dragon stories do speak to me after all haha. Also it's worth remembering that the writer was like 16 or something when he wrote the first book lol.

Hawki:
I'll also add The Expanse.

As I've said, this series does one thing very well - the worldbuilding. However, worldbuilding will offer diminishing returns over time, especially when that worldbuilding is confined to a single star system. Otherwise, what's left? Characters? Fine. Writing? Fine. Plot? Fine. The Expanse is, for the most part, just...fine. So why is it so popular?

On the flipside, I really like the TV series though.

I think the Expanse largely survives on its world building. It does such a massive job setting itself up that once the steam starts to run off around book 6-7, it can sustain itself on the fact that the reader is invested in the world. That and the books keep changing up their themes. Books 1-2 are largely political thrillers and mystery plots, 3-4 deals with exploring new worlds, 5-6 are about the changing power landscape that interstellar colonization brings and 7-8 (and arguably 9) are about the consequences of all the bad choices made in previous books coming back to bite you.

Drathnoxis:

People claim that the book is making some sort of meta statement with an unreliable narrator, but the Kvothe we see in the third person segments is just as perfect as the Kvothe who is narrating the first person sections.

I have though about this myself, as I justified pushing myself halfway into The Wise Man's Fear. However, if you are to use the unreliable narrator as a trope you also need to clue the reader in on it. You need to have Chronicler, Bast or someone else point out that Kvothe's re-telling of events is either different from written history or how they remember the shared memory. That never happens and, as you say, Kvothe remains just as perfect in the interludes. Ultimately, what pushed me to think there's no unreliable narrator at work is how the book itself is really insistent on making sure the reader understands that what Kvothe is telling is what really happened. Kvothe keeps bringing up his perfect memory and gigantic intellect and other characters keep bringing up his honesty (in that situation at least, he's also a master liar remember?) and perfect recall. That's the author slapping you in the face and telling you that Kvothe's tale is perfectly reliable because the author says so.

Gethsemani:

I think the Expanse largely survives on its world building. It does such a massive job setting itself up that once the steam starts to run off around book 6-7, it can sustain itself on the fact that the reader is invested in the world. That and the books keep changing up their themes. Books 1-2 are largely political thrillers and mystery plots, 3-4 deals with exploring new worlds, 5-6 are about the changing power landscape that interstellar colonization brings and 7-8 (and arguably 9) are about the consequences of all the bad choices made in previous books coming back to bite you.

I can see what you're getting at there. I also agree that one could potentially divide the books up as you describe them. That said, the problem for me, personally, is that the steam started running out as soon as book 2. As in, book 1 gives me a blast of "steam," giving me a well fleshed-out setting, inhabited by characters that are "okay," and a plot that's...fine. That's a state of affairs that more or less lasted for the first four books, with each being less interesting than the prior to me. Nemesis Games is the exception that it bucked the trend, and in part by being more character focused than previous works. As in, it's kind of a downtime book before the shit hits the fan (or rather, asteroids hit the Earth), but even then, the improvement in character and plot doesn't take it beyond "okay."

Twilight - I read the first book in my senior year in high school. I thought it was okay at the time. But then the movies happened, and the novels kept getting worse. Not to mention Stephanie Meyer is a complete whackjob, and thankfully the people in the filming industry realized this ans no ones wants to work with her at all or ever again. The only good thing you can say about Twilight is the crazed died down in 2013/14, and most of the teenage girls are not gonna look back positively on the books as adults. It was fun messing with teenagers or obssessed adult fans with the Team Jacob nonsense. I would say stuff like Team Hellsing/Helsing, Alucard, Seras, Blade or D, and a majority of these "vampire fans" had no idea who I was talking about. Jokingly, I would say " And you call yourselves vampire fans. You should be ashamed!".

Thaluikhain:
50 shades, of course, is infamously a Twilight fan-fic with new names.

I've pointed this out and there were some people who didn't get it, and some who did. I just can't believe certain people fell for the same thing twice. I do remember a case where I told a person this, and instantly stopped reading the books.

I read Heart of Darkness once, and it can be a slog.

John Carter of Mars. I get why, but the character and planetary romance setting has been copied so many times (film, TV, comics, & other books) that he comes off as bland or a blank slate by comparison. The books after 3 have more interesting protags by comparison. What does not help is some of the racists undertones (cannibal black martians)[1]. Though it has progressive moments: not all of the women are damsels in distress, and interracial relations are seen as full positive thing in the third book. That said, I found the books entertaining.

[1] There is some irony as the white martian, who are all blonde, blue-eyed, and where blonde wigs (fitting the Nazi stereotype before Nazis existed) are worse than all of the other martians.

CoCage:
John Carter of Mars. I get why, but the character and planetary romance setting has been copied so many times (film, TV, comics, & other books) that he comes off as bland or a blank slate by comparison. The books after 3 have more interesting protags by comparison. What does not help is some of the racists undertones (cannibal black martians)[1]. Though it has progressive moments: not all of the women are damsels in distress, and interracial relations are seen as full positive thing in the third book. That said, I found the books entertaining.

Eh, I didn't see a problem with the black Martians so much, in that they are explicitly not Earth humans and they've got their weird thing going on that's not related to real stereotypes that much (didn't remember cannibalism, though). Especially after he's got the red people and the green people and he's met the white people, he's seemingly coming up with colours at random. No blue people though.

Progressive "moments", but almost all the women are useless, especially Dejah Thoris who does nothing except get kidnapped. Now, the male heroes can expect to get captured at least once a novel, but they come up with some daring escape plan (my favourite is the balloon), the women do not.

But, I do like some of the weird alien things he comes up with. By comparison, Tarzan is (IMHO) much less interesting (only read the first few so far though) and there's more racism, though female characters are much more likely to pistol whip their captors into unconsciousness.

[1] There is some irony as the white martian, who are all blonde, blue-eyed, and where blonde wigs (fitting the Nazi stereotype before Nazis existed) are worse than all of the other martians.

Hawki:
-Wheel of Time (no, seriously, I don't get it. I've read the first three books, they're okay, but to generate the fan fervor it does? WoT starts off as LotR-lite, then becomes its own thing, but I can't really describe what that "thing" actually is. It's like some weird middle ground between LotR and A Song of Ice and Fire, and doesn't satisfy me, yet apparently, satisfies enough people that it has its own convention)

Wheel of Time had an interesting start and a couple of good hooks (for one, men and women access "magic" differently, and the men's side is tainted by dark power) but by the third book, every last word (and there were so many words) boiled down to either characters complaining "why can't (men/women) be more like (women/men)" or new characters being introduced and then viciously killed off so that Rand could angst about it.

Hawki:
Edit: Also, anything by Tom Clancy (or one of his ghost authors) or Dale Brown.

Tom Clancy was writing video game plots when video games were barely a thing. Simplistic, formulaic and jingoistic.

Drathnoxis:
The discussion in the VS. thread got me thinking about The Name of the Wind. I just cannot comprehend how a book like that can become so massively popular. Throngs of people praise it as a masterpiece with beautiful, poetry-like prose. I just can't understand it.

Well, it is very attractively written. That works for some people - I like some books full of flaws, but that are very well written.

But compare Rothfuss to Robert Jordan, who I consider the non plus ultra of wasted words on nothing happening. Or even Brandon Sanderson in his post-Wheel of Time work, where from finishing Jordan's slogathon he mostly seems to have learnt the same habit of page after page achieving nothing. As an opposite, one of my favourite authors is Jack Vance: he often just lists off names of a load of imaginary flora and fauna and doesn't stop to describe them at all unless important. Use your own imagination, reader.

It seems to be common to people world-building, although it's not just world-building: there lots of overlong and unnecessary descriptive passages as well. One thing common to SF&F is that fans want to seem to know more and more about how the imaginary universe works, and more and more about what's going on. You can see it in old TV shows like the original Star Trek or Doctor Who. It's a big thing for lots of fans, hence why often lots of spin-offs to flesh out what people don't want to think up for themselves and arguments about canon. Personally, I'm happy to be given my snapshot of someone's creation and move on.

* * *

Dreiko:

Oh and I read Eragon back many years ago when it was new, I don't remember much of it which I guess is a point against it but I do remember it fondly. Dragon stories do speak to me after all haha. Also it's worth remembering that the writer was like 16 or something when he wrote the first book lol.

Parents were big in the publishing world, in case you're ever wondering why he got published. From what I can see, a fair few authors who get contracts when you can't quite see why (and often disappear rapidly) appear to have relatives in the publishing industry.

I hate YA lit, generally. I really hate it. Ready Player One, Eragon (I'm not sure I read it, but I saw the film), etc. Awful stuff.

* * *

I find this a little hard to answer because I read lots of SF&F, but I'm not sure what's selling well (and some is surely country-dependent).

I don't necessarily like a lot of stuff that is (as far as I can tell) successful, but I can usually see why it's successful. For instance that Monster Hunter guy (Correia?) seems to sell a lot in the US from what I've read, but there's nothing I've seen about any of his books which has ever inspired me to even try one.

Imperial Radch.

Only read the first book, and it's a book where the only gender pronoun used is "she," because the language of the setting doesn't have gender-specific pronouns. And I'm left to ask...why? To make a point about gender stereotypes? If so, it's more trouble than it's worth IMO. In the far future, I don't really care who does what. You can specify gender and still convey a setting where no-one gives a hoot about the plumbing of humans doing whatever jobs the future requires of them.

Agema:
Eragon (I'm not sure I read it, but I saw the film), etc. Awful stuff.

The film's wretched. Book's slightly better though. That said, Eragon (the book) is the weakest in the series. Paolini definitely became a stronger writer by the end of the series.

Hawki:
Imperial Radch.

Only read the first book, and it's a book where the only gender pronoun used is "she," because the language of the setting doesn't have gender-specific pronouns. And I'm left to ask...why? To make a point about gender stereotypes? If so, it's more trouble than it's worth IMO. In the far future, I don't really care who does what. You can specify gender and still convey a setting where no-one gives a hoot about the plumbing of humans doing whatever jobs the future requires of them.

I think you're totally wrong.

The point of much SF is to give a vision of the future. If it's a future civilisation where gender difference has effectively been culturally eliminated, why not? Why compromise that vision for the ease and convenience of the reader?

The author doesn't have to be "making a point", and I don't feel it's ideology rammed down our throats. But SF can pose us an intellectual task to consider how future societies are different. I think putting it in front of a reader forces the reader to confront and examine that difference: a central challenge where using our nice, comforting current pronoun system would leave that genderless society little more than a trivial window dressing. For instance, I found myself wanting to know whether a character was a (biological) man or woman. I am instantly thus reminded I am different from characters in the book, for whom it's not a worthwhile factor.

Game of Thrones

Man, if you have a hard time believing that near perfect Gary/Mary sue character are incredibly popular do I have an entire industry to present to you, the Japanese light novel/cellphone novel and all their anime adaptation! For those unfamiliar, the flavour of the last 5 years in anime (thankfully coming to an end) was "isekai" which feature people in the real world (usually boring nerd) getting killed and reincarnated in a fantasy land (usually generic video game) and being obscenely overpowered. The flavour of the 5 years before that were magic school, also mostly based on light novel, about kid going to magic highschool, generally they're the reject of the school who everybody look down on, despite being the most powerful person on campus.

These scenario works really really well as mass market trash. Everything that seems like a weakness is actually a strength:

-Boring main character? Perfect! let the audience self insert, make them flawless, everybody think their perfect and the only reason they don't get what they deserve (ie everything adn anything) is because everybody else is keeping them down.

-One dimensional cast? Wouldn't want them to over shadow the main character, anyway all they need to do is fawn over the MC.

-Drab writing? Good, it needs to be simple so it can reach as wide an audience as possible. Oh but make it sounds fancy so they feel like their reading high literature, so throw in long sentence that say literally nothing, that way even if the reader doesn't understand the sentence, their not missing anything.

-Simple plot? Great, that way it can be more relatable to the reader simple life.

Personally I never got into Harry Potter (tried the first book and dropped it too quickly to really comment on it) but I always liked how it seems to get really close to all those problem but apparently avoided them.

For other book mentioned in the thread, I made a thread about wheel of time a while ago, I just really liked the excellent world building, but the rest wasn't worth it. My favourite book that I read is literally the one where the main character isn't in it.

I just read the first expanse novel, same idea, really liked the world building but didn't care much for the rest of it. I'll keep reading the series for now while more world building is introduced.

Oh I should mention, Shamus Young, former escapist columnist (both young and old) wrote a book called "The other kind of life" that just like that, very strong world building but so so main plot (good character though).

Thaluikhain:

Eh, I didn't see a problem with the black Martians so much, in that they are explicitly not Earth humans and they've got their weird thing going on that's not related to real stereotypes that much (didn't remember cannibalism, though). Especially after he's got the red people and the green people and he's met the white people, he's seemingly coming up with colours at random. No blue people though.

Progressive "moments", but almost all the women are useless, especially Dejah Thoris who does nothing except get kidnapped. Now, the male heroes can expect to get captured at least once a novel, but they come up with some daring escape plan (my favourite is the balloon), the women do not.

But, I do like some of the weird alien things he comes up with. By comparison, Tarzan is (IMHO) much less interesting (only read the first few so far though) and there's more racism, though female characters are much more likely to pistol whip their captors into unconsciousness.

Well, and I most others did. There are several comic adaptions of John Carter and they either have the Black Martians have the color dark grey, or if they are black like ivory, they will have the cannibalism outright removed. Also, hence why I said there is some progressiveness. Dejha Thoris is at least defiant, and in adaptions of other mediums, she is more a fighter. Thuvia is more of a fighter, and got out of her distress when captured. She is a powerful psychic that can communicate with animals that are super deadly. Making her a beast master, so that's definitely something for the early 1900s. Like I said before, the books after Warlord of Mars have way more interesting characters than John. There are no blue martians, but there are blue cyclops plant-men. There are yellow martians too. The red martians are from breeding of black, yellow, and white martians. The books does point this out as a positive thing, so that definitely progressive; especially for the 1900s.

Tarzan I can't read for the most part. Mainly, the early books. The only Tarzan I fully enjoy is the Disney one.

Agema:

I think you're totally wrong.

The point of much SF is to give a vision of the future. If it's a future civilisation where gender difference has effectively been culturally eliminated, why not? Why compromise that vision for the ease and convenience of the reader?

The author is free to do whatever they like, doesn't mean I have to enjoy it. The whole gender ambiguity thing started off as "huh, that's cute" and ended with "meh." We lose much more from the choice (ambiguity of character) than what we gain (tangental worldbuilding - Imperial Radch is more interested with AIs and starships).

The author doesn't have to be "making a point", and I don't feel it's ideology rammed down our throats. But SF can pose us an intellectual task to consider how future societies are different. I think putting it in front of a reader forces the reader to confront and examine that difference: a central challenge where using our nice, comforting current pronoun system would leave that genderless society little more than a trivial window dressing. For instance, I found myself wanting to know whether a character was a (biological) man or woman. I am instantly thus reminded I am different from characters in the book, for whom it's not a worthwhile factor.

Okay, but all you just said was a negative for me.

You mention "a central challenge." Okay, but it isn't really a challenge. It's an annoyance. The book doesn't delve into the concept enough to have anything meaningful to say, but the concept is prevalant enough that you can't escape from it. It means that every time I encountered a character there was a 'haze' around the character because there's that extra level of ambiguity that makes it hard to connect to them, Breq being the exception because she's the POV character. I doubt I'd be that much more invested in Imperial Radch if it wasn't the case (book's fine, just didn't get drawn into it), but it's a constant little niggle, like someone poking you everytime you see the word "she," because there's that level of ambiguity you can't escape from.

Hawki:

Drathnoxis:
Eragon,

Okay, I'm gonna say it - I don't think Eragon is actually bad.

Note that when I say "Eragon," I'm referring to the Inheritance Cycle as a whole. If we're discussing the first book, then sure - the writing is basic, and the plot is taken from other works. But the series does improve over time, in terms of its writing, and in its worldbuilding. I mean, Paolini was only 15 when he wrote the work - what did you write when you were 15? And if we're criticizing Inheritance for ripping off fantasy, there's plenty of fantasy works that have started off ripping off LotR (Shannara, Wheel of Time, etc.) before becoming more distinct.

Now, now Hawki, I'm disappointed. I had thought you were better than these sorts of arguments. First, if we are only allowed to criticize what we can personally do the Escapist would surely not exist today.

Second, this was a published work, sold for full price in the store along side any other novel. It doesn't matter if the author is 15 or 92, in that environment it should be able to stand up on it's own without any qualifying statements. Thousands of teenagers write novels. Is every under 18 who participates in NaNoWriMo entitled to worldwide fame and fortune? Obviously not, so why should we overlook the amateurish storytelling skill of this one kid simply because his parents had connections at a publishing company?

I did actually make it through the whole series, half for completion sake and half because the narrator of the audio book I was listening to was really good, but as far as I can remember the books got worse with every installment. By the end, the main characters were overpowered psychopaths, nearly as bad as the villain they were fighting against. The narrative is seemingly completely unaware of this, championing these jerks as true and righteous heroes. Eragon uses his incredible power to mete out mass slaughter and cruel and unusual punishment. He blinds his cousin's father in law (who was a traitor, I think?) with magic and forces him to wander the world blind, helpless, and alone until he reaches the city of the elves, or something. Eragon's body count is in the thousands by the end of the series, he regularly tears through soldiers who have as much power to stand against him as a baby would. I don't remember him ever showing remorse over the countless lives he took. Roran was a completely nonsensical character, supposedly a Normal Human Being, he basically takes turns being superman and then getting dumped on. I wrote a rant about him and Nasuada(power mad future queen) at the time I was reading the books:

It's been a long time and my memory of the books is pretty shaky, but I remember feeling that the ending wasn't very satisfactory. Something about it made the majority of the series feel like a waste of time, but I can't even begin to say anymore.

Drathnoxis:
Now, now Hawki, I'm disappointed. I had thought you were better than these sorts of arguments. First, if we are only allowed to criticize what we can personally do the Escapist would surely not exist today.

I'm not saying that his age should shield the work from criticism. However, I bring it up because I think the quality of the work is still above the average quality from what one would expect from a writer at that age - I can't cite what I was writing at 15, but I CAN cite what I was writing at 16 (and before), and...yikes. Also, the point I also wanted to make is that yes, Eragon is derivative, but there's a sense of double standards with Inheritance, per the examples I mentioned. Various works (and not just as books) have started off as derivative before gaining a sense of identity further down the line, but people tend to be more forgiving of them.

Is every under 18 who participates in NaNoWriMo entitled to worldwide fame and fortune? Obviously not, so why should we overlook the amateurish storytelling skill of this one kid simply because his parents had connections at a publishing company?

Of course not, and yes, Paolini did have the right connections. But I'd be curious to know how many people who participate in NaNo are under 18, how many of them actually finish it, and how many turn in something remotely readable.

I did actually make it through the whole series, half for completion sake and half because the narrator of the audio book I was listening to was really good, but as far as I can remember the books got worse with every installment.

For me, I'd go 2>3>4>1 (I don't know where Tales of Aleglasia fits in, you can see my review of it as to why).

By the end, the main characters were overpowered psychopaths, nearly as bad as the villain they were fighting against. The narrative is seemingly completely unaware of this, championing these jerks as true and righteous heroes.

I did recall that the books did acknowledge that innocent people were suffering as a result. This is foreshadowed as early as the first book, where Murtagh pointing out that the Empire as a system is sound, it's just got a tyrant for a ruler.

He blinds his cousin's father in law (who was a traitor, I think?) with magic and forces him to wander the world blind, helpless, and alone until he reaches the city of the elves, or something.

Yeah, and? Sloan's a traitor, and before that, he was a dick. You can call it cruel, but the books show cruel times.

Roran was a completely nonsensical character, supposedly a Normal Human Being, he basically takes turns being superman and then getting dumped on.

Wasn't that because of his hammer having gems or something? It was certainly a plot point for the 'uber' soldiers Galbatorix used in the fourth book.

It's been a long time and my memory of the books is pretty shaky, but I remember feeling that the ending wasn't very satisfactory. Something about it made the majority of the series feel like a waste of time, but I can't even begin to say anymore.

I do agree that the ending is shakey, and the fourth book does have power creep, even if it's power creep that's justified in-universe. Still, 2/3 are still "good" in my eyes.

CoCage:
Well, and I most others did. There are several comic adaptions of John Carter and they either have the Black Martians have the color dark grey, or if they are black like ivory, they will have the cannibalism outright removed. Also, hence why I said there is some progressiveness. Dejha Thoris is at least defiant, and in adaptions of other mediums, she is more a fighter.

Sure, if we are including the comics and other adaptations. I wouldn't have counted them as being part of the canon, but I like action heroine/scientist/investigator Dejah Thoris a lot more than the one in the books who just sits there and is "incomparable". IIRC, the book Dejah Thoris is less curvy and more naked than the usual comic depictions.

Tavia, some books further in flat out is a proper action heroine, though. Although the hero doesn't recognise it and explicitly states he was worried about her safety in a way he wouldn't be about a man of comparable ability. That character was impressively thick when it comes to women, though.

Personally, I suspect making them dark grey in the comics is because actual black figures don't work very well visually, dark grey just looks better, they weren't going to make them "black" as in brown human colour.

CoCage:
so that defintely progressive; especially for the 1900s.

Ah, ok, if you mean progressive for the 1900s, fair enough.

Thaluikhain:

Tavia, some books further in flat out is a proper action heroine, though. Although the hero doesn't recognise it and explicitly states he was worried about her safety in a way he wouldn't be about a man of comparable ability. That character was impressively thick when it comes to women, though.

Ah, Tavia from A Fighting Man of Mars. I still have to get that one. I know she is one of the first tomboyish action heroines in fiction.

Hawki:
However, worldbuilding will offer diminishing returns over time, especially when that worldbuilding is confined to a single star system.

Actually, I think one of the few interesting things about the Expanse, at least initially, is that it's entirely set in our solar system. I don't think that's something which is done enough outside of that really boring, old school "hard" sci-fi (to which the expanse series admittedly owes a fair bit).

I feel like very few interstellar science fiction series really capture the scale things get to once you start leaving the solar system. Some really scale-intensive science fiction like Warhammer 40,000 or the Culture series make a valiant effort, but often in sci-fi I feel like you could fit all of the diversity and flavour of a supposedly interstellar civilization into our solar system with plenty of room to spare.

evilthecat:

Actually, I think one of the few interesting things about the Expanse, at least initially, is that it's entirely set in our solar system. I don't think that's something which is done enough outside of that really boring, old school "hard" sci-fi (to which the expanse series admittedly owes a fair bit).

In of itself, it's interesting, but doesn't change how (at least for me), that level of interest goes down over time. Like, the first book sets up the Earth/Mars/OPA dynamic, with the political distinctions and in the case of the Belters, cultural/physical ones as well. But as we go on, those distinctions become familiar to the reader. "Familiarity breeds contempt" and all that. I mean, yeah, Nemesis Games highlighted how the land rush beyond the gate would affect the Belters and Martians, but we're still dealing with the same players.

I feel like very few interstellar science fiction series really capture the scale things get to once you start leaving the solar system. Some really scale-intensive science fiction like Warhammer 40,000 or the Culture series make a valiant effort, but often in sci-fi I feel like you could fit all of the diversity and flavour of a supposedly interstellar civilization into our solar system with plenty of room to spare.

To quote TV Tropes, "sci-fi writers have no sense of scale."

I can't begrudge that fact of life too much though, because we're dealing with scales that are hard to fathom, and scales that we have no practical experience with, and never will (certainly not in our lifetimes). I mean, 40K covers the whole galaxy, with sections of the galaxy being divided into segmentums, but travel time is accomplished via Warp travel, which given how it works, can translate to "travel will take as long as the plot demands."

That said, whether you could fit all that diversity into Sol is another issue. Like, if we take every human culture within the Imperium, said cultures ranging from space Vikings (Space Wolves) to British Empire (Praetorians) to every other cultural inspiration within the Imperium, I don't think there's enough planets and moons within Sol for them to flourish, even if we set up multiple cultures up on the same world, and we'd have to come up with a reason as to why those cultures emerged the way they did.

Meiam:
Man, if you have a hard time believing that near perfect Gary/Mary sue character are incredibly popular do I have an entire industry to present to you, the Japanese light novel/cellphone novel and all their anime adaptation! For those unfamiliar, the flavour of the last 5 years in anime (thankfully coming to an end) was "isekai" which feature people in the real world (usually boring nerd) getting killed and reincarnated in a fantasy land (usually generic video game) and being obscenely overpowered. The flavour of the 5 years before that were magic school, also mostly based on light novel, about kid going to magic highschool, generally they're the reject of the school who everybody look down on, despite being the most powerful person on campus.

These scenario works really really well as mass market trash. Everything that seems like a weakness is actually a strength:

I used to be pretty into Chat Roleplaying earlier and if there was one thing I quickly learned there it was that the average person is not interested in a deep story, interesting background lore or complex character studies. They want wish fulfillment. Loads of it. Most characters you'd encounter was pure wish fulfillment all the way through: In fantasy everyone was a King or Queen, some kind of Angel, Demon or otherwise supernatural being and was the best at what they did (often both magic and fighting). In modern RPs everyone was a billionaire, drove expensive cars and had a successful career as mafia leaders, international assassins or special forces operatives (or all three, for good measure).

I can sort of get it too. If your life is tough or boring and your chances of changing it are low, pretending to be someone who has it all is probably much better than reading (or making) fiction about how hard other people's lives are.

Hawki:
Okay, but all you just said was a negative for me.

You mention "a central challenge." Okay, but it isn't really a challenge. It's an annoyance. The book doesn't delve into the concept enough to have anything meaningful to say, but the concept is prevalant enough that you can't escape from it. It means that every time I encountered a character there was a 'haze' around the character because there's that extra level of ambiguity that makes it hard to connect to them, Breq being the exception because she's the POV character. I doubt I'd be that much more invested in Imperial Radch if it wasn't the case (book's fine, just didn't get drawn into it), but it's a constant little niggle, like someone poking you everytime you see the word "she," because there's that level of ambiguity you can't escape from.

It is wasn't without effort and potential corresponding annoyance, it wouldn't be a challenge. You don't have to like it: as with all art, any one individual doesn't have to enjoy or want to engage with levels that the art is working at.

We are perhaps used to a system where a story explicitly explains to us in nice, simple language how a mechanism works. But literature has always also worked by just giving us stuff as it is and expecting us to work on it ourselves. For instance the difference between the author telling us "X became angry" or "Y was a scheming liar", or just telling us what people say or do and leaving us to infer their character and feelings.

Gethsemani:
I used to be pretty into Chat Roleplaying earlier and if there was one thing I quickly learned there it was that the average person is not interested in a deep story, interesting background lore or complex character studies. They want wish fulfillment. Loads of it.

That's partly why I lost heart with roleplaying: I wanted to see it as a story, and too many players I knew saw it as a game to get the high score in. I particularly resented the ones who somehow managed to go away and roll no attribute lower than 16 (D&D; or equivalent) for every character. Amazing how the luck always came in on the dice then.

Agema:

We are perhaps used to a system where a story explicitly explains to us in nice, simple language how a mechanism works. But literature has always also worked by just giving us stuff as it is and expecting us to work on it ourselves. For instance the difference between the author telling us "X became angry" or "Y was a scheming liar", or just telling us what people say or do and leaving us to infer their character and feelings.

There's a world of difference there.

I can write "Bob became angry" or "Bob let out a scream, falling to the ground, pounding the cold stone so that blood from his hands flowed upon it." In other words, show, don't tell. That's Writing 101, because it's generally understood that showing is preferable to telling.

Using "she" as your only pronoun isn't that. It's simply adding ambiguity to the story while not really accomplishing anything. At best, it's trying to make a statement, and in my view, it's a statement that isn't worth the tradeoff. At worst, it's ambiguity for ambiguity's sake.

Agema:

That's partly why I lost heart with roleplaying: I wanted to see it as a story, and too many players I knew saw it as a game to get the high score in. I particularly resented the ones who somehow managed to go away and roll no attribute lower than 16 (D&D; or equivalent) for every character. Amazing how the luck always came in on the dice then.

I still play RPGs, and this grates me. I mean, I have some over-powered characters, and some min/maxed ones, and I like some builds that are designed to do certain things really well- lately, I enjoy playing a large, monstrous, inhuman bruiser that is happy to let the smart/clever ones call most of the shots, but then gets to step up and back their plays with talons, teeth and tree trunks. But it's easy to resent folks when they have uber-mensch Sues and Stus, that make all the others roles in the group superfluous.

Hawki:
In of itself, it's interesting, but doesn't change how (at least for me), that level of interest goes down over time.

It's true. I also don't think it helps that there's a lot of narrative repetition in overall storyline which means the societal conflict becomes kind of stale over time. The fact that these societies are so separated by culture and physiology that they're basically monolithic blocs doesn't really help (and also hugely overstates what is actually physiologically possible).

Hawki:
I can't begrudge that fact of life too much though, because we're dealing with scales that are hard to fathom, and scales that we have no practical experience with, and never will (certainly not in our lifetimes).

True, but I really don't think it's that hard and people have tried to do it. It's not hard to push into the kind of scale that disrupts a person's sense of normality. When we move from dozens or hundreds of star systems or planets to millions of star systems or planets, even if that's still ludicrously small for a spacefaring society that's supposed to cover a significant part of the galaxy, your brain can at least register that as a really big number even if you can't imagine it.

Hawki:
Like, if we take every human culture within the Imperium, said cultures ranging from space Vikings (Space Wolves) to British Empire (Praetorians) to every other cultural inspiration within the Imperium, I don't think there's enough planets and moons within Sol for them to flourish, even if we set up multiple cultures up on the same world, and we'd have to come up with a reason as to why those cultures emerged the way they did.

The thing is, those cultures are cartoons. They're the kind of thing you'd find in a Bethesda Fallout game, where you've got this society hundreds of years the future and yet everyone in it is obsessed with the popular culture of the 1950s. If we were to employ the same cartoon logic as 40k, it wouldn't be hard to imagine all kinds of weird shit existing in our solar system. You can have the pirates of Pluto complete with space parrots and cutlasses, or the solar samurai who fold their katanas a thousand times in the heat of the sun's photosphere. Where did they come from? How do they coexist? Who cares, 40k never asks those questions.

But imagine if the protomolecule never arrived in the expanse solar system. Imagine if humanity just carried on for another few hundred (or even a thousand) years without being able to leave at FTL speeds. That solar system has probably become a very big place. Mercury is probably being slowly dismantled to build a dyson swarm around the sun. Many planetoids have already been broken down by millions of autonomous robots to build countless self-sustaining orbital habitats. Artificial rings around the gas giants could exist, or be in construction. There could be many times more habitats in our solar system than there are planets in the typical interstellar science fiction civilization, and since your typical science fiction planet is a monoculture anyway, these habitats could be far more culturally diverse despite being smaller. Any weird or wonderful thing you want could live on these habitats, as they've had centuries to evolve culturally, and potentially to evolve physically as well if they choose to do so.

evilthecat:
You can have the pirates of Pluto complete with space parrots and cutlasses, or the solar samurai who fold their katanas a thousand times in the heat of the sun's photosphere. Where did they come from? How do they coexist? Who cares, 40k never asks those questions.

40K does answer those questions though.

First, we know that for thousands of years, human colonization relied on sub-light craft, so given the tyranny of distance, you'd expect different cultures to emerge over time. After that, they're more united with the advent of warp engines, but then you have the Age of Strife, where humanity's empire is fragmented, and its worlds are left to fend for themselves. So, by the Great Crusade, you have cultures that have been isolated for thousands of years, and even in the Age of the Imperium itself, it's established that it can still take a long time to get from Point A to Point B. Yes, those worlds are going to have some common cultural threads (e.g. worship of the Emperor), but it's easy to see why human colonists on, say, Catachan, developed cultural traits different from, say, Fenris.

But imagine if the protomolecule never arrived in the expanse solar system. Imagine if humanity just carried on for another few hundred (or even a thousand) years without being able to leave at FTL speeds. That solar system has probably become a very big place. Mercury is probably being slowly dismantled to build a dyson swarm around the sun. Many planetoids have already been broken down by millions of autonomous robots to build countless self-sustaining orbital habitats. Artificial rings around the gas giants could exist, or be in construction. There could be many times more habitats in our solar system than there are planets in the typical interstellar science fiction civilization, and since your typical science fiction planet is a monoculture anyway, these habitats could be far more culturally diverse despite being smaller. Any weird or wonderful thing you want could live on these habitats, as they've had centuries to evolve culturally, and potentially to evolve physically as well if they choose to do so.

In theory, yes, but in the context of the Expanse itself, not so much. We've seen that by the time of the books, it isn't that hard to get around the Sol system, or at least it isn't up to Saturn (Uranus and Neptune barely feature). So in a world where the gate was never created, even if self-sustaining habitats were created throughout the system, we've seen that it's easy to stay in touch to an extent, and we can assume it would get easier over time as improvements were made to the Epstein drive.

As for the monoculture thing, it does make sense in the context of the setting. Earth's under the UN, with half its population on basic, so while we do see some cultural remnants that we'd recognise (e.g. different types of food), Earth's monocultural because that's the path it's gone down. Mars, I can also by, because you've got colonists with a shared goal in mind - terraforming the planet, and staying independent from Earth, plus a more militaristic culture that a harsher environment demands (also independence from Earth). The OPA's established to be fairly elastic though, and we see this - "OPA" is more a blanket term for various Belter factions, but even with all the differences those factions entail, we see the traits you'd expect - a creole developing, resentment of the Inners, physiological differences, and a culture that emphasizes the need to survive in space (e.g. learning to use a space suit as a child).

Now, the Expanse could have been written in a manner with more cultural diversity, but the monolithic elements you mention make sense within the setting.

Hawki:
40K does answer those questions though.

So, you've kind of read my argument in the opposite way to the one intended.

I'm not confused as to how diverse cultures could exist in the 40k setting. I'm saying that it's silly those cultures exactly resemble real historical cultures or stereotypes.

The comparison to a Bethesda Fallout game is due to how both setting misunderstand their own scope, especially when it comes to time. Bethesda Fallout games are theoretically set hundreds of years after the nuclear war, but everyone is still obsessed with replicating or copying pre-war things. Worse, they're obsessed with random 1950s stuff from a hundred years before the nuclear apocalypse. Everyone feels like they're LARPing, rather than trying to build a real society on the wreckage of the past, because it's absurd that so much cultural information has survived intact.

The distance between now and the year 40,000 is several times the distance between now and the founding of the first human cities, and yet vikings have survived? People are still going around in red coats, pith helmets and Victorian moustaches? Again, these are not realistic human cultures, they're LARP cultures where people mindlessly and exactly emulate historical cultures which should have been long forgotten. When I ask where they came from, I don't mean literally how did humans get to these alien planets and develop their own distinct identity, I mean what made them turn into these stereotypes? 40k doesn't give us an answer because it's not meant to be taken that seriously.

Hawki:
As for the monoculture thing, it does make sense in the context of the setting..

My point wasn't actually that the various planets in the expanse were monocultures, it's that the planets in most science fiction settings (including 40k, for the most part) are monocultures.

It's always seemed rather odd to have single culture (and single biome) planets, given that most writers presumably are from Earth where individual nations usually have several.

Lets see here:

For Manga:

Love Hina: While Tenchi Muyo was my first Harem Anime, it did alot of things right, like haveing a protagonist that could do awsome moments and not be a the world's greatest punching bag. Love hina is a cavalcade of abuse that makes me wonder how this guy could survive and how small his spine is. I played against Goblins armies in Warhammer and 40K, and they were less cowardly and they were bloody goblins. Yes there is fanservice galor, but I've seen better with better reasons to want to hook up with the guy in Air Gear.

Books: Catcher In the Rye: I get why its considered important for literature, but at the same time this is a book done from the perspective of a whiny emo hipster you want to strangle with their own pretentiousness. There are maybe three or four fictional characters that made me want to do that, and this was one of them.

saint of m:

Books: Catcher In the Rye: I get why its considered important for literature, but at the same time this is a book done from the perspective of a whiny emo hipster you want to strangle with their own pretentiousness. There are maybe three or four fictional characters that made me want to do that, and this was one of them.

Really? Huh. I just listened to the audiobook for this a couple months ago, and I really enjoyed it. Holden Caulfield is kind of a nut and I found his rambling descriptions and sometimes strange reactions to be quite humorous. Pretentious isn't really a word I would have used to describe him, but I suppose it is kind of a fitting description in a way for a habitual liar.

Edit: I would say that in contrast to The Name of the Wind, this book is an unreliable narrator done right. And actually, thinking about it, there are a lot of parallels you can draw between Catcher in the Rye and The Name of the Wind. Both are narrated in the first person by a teenage habitual liar who thinks they are a lot smarter than everybody else and both feature almost no plot. Though, unlike Kvothe, Holden has a lot of personality in his descriptions and it's clear he reads a lot into other people's actions that may or may not actually be accurate, rather than just being perfectly boring all the time. Also CitR is short and succinct, where as TNotW is 700 pages of unnecessary bloat which acts like there's a much more interesting story just around the corner.

saint of m:
Lets see here:

For Manga:

Love Hina: While Tenchi Muyo was my first Harem Anime, it did alot of things right, like haveing a protagonist that could do awsome moments and not be a the world's greatest punching bag. Love hina is a cavalcade of abuse that makes me wonder how this guy could survive and how small his spine is. I played against Goblins armies in Warhammer and 40K, and they were less cowardly and they were bloody goblins. Yes there is fanservice galor, but I've seen better with better reasons to want to hook up with the guy in Air Gear.

Books: Catcher In the Rye: I get why its considered important for literature, but at the same time this is a book done from the perspective of a whiny emo hipster you want to strangle with their own pretentiousness. There are maybe three or four fictional characters that made me want to do that, and this was one of them.

Love Hina is popular because it just had really varied and likeable female characters in a time where there wasn't as much variety, not because people liked the protagonist lmao. Akamatsu Ken is one of the better known romance/harem mangaka out there due to his ahead-of-the-curve tendency to capture cuteness and adorableness in his female characters in new and imaginative ways. Also, the second to last volume of LH is prolly the funniest manga I've ever read, not sure if you've gotten that far into the story, but that part where everyone's chasing the protagonist trying to marry him is just consistently knee-slapping fun.

Oh and don't look down on goblins if you know what's good for your womenfolk. *GS flashbacks*

Hawki:

As for the monoculture thing, it does make sense in the context of the setting. Earth's under the UN, with half its population on basic, so while we do see some cultural remnants that we'd recognise (e.g. different types of food), Earth's monocultural because that's the path it's gone down. Mars, I can also by, because you've got colonists with a shared goal in mind - terraforming the planet, and staying independent from Earth, plus a more militaristic culture that a harsher environment demands (also independence from Earth). The OPA's established to be fairly elastic though, and we see this - "OPA" is more a blanket term for various Belter factions, but even with all the differences those factions entail, we see the traits you'd expect - a creole developing, resentment of the Inners, physiological differences, and a culture that emphasizes the need to survive in space (e.g. learning to use a space suit as a child).

Isn't one of the plot points of Nemesis Games that Mars never was the monolithic culture it was presented/assumed to be? *SPOILER* Specifically that Duarte and a load of other Martians are not all that interested in the idea of terraforming Mars, but would rather seize any means to cripple Earth and establish their own hegemony. *END SPOILER*

In a similar vein, both Amos and Holden's backstories are meant to show that life on Earth is still pretty diverse. You can still grow up in poverty and be a criminal or grow up in the (sort of) rural countryside in weird family constellations. This is just very seldom explored in depth because most of the Expanse takes place in the actual expanse of space (hence why Belters and OPA are much more nuanced, we see them a lot more) instead of on Earth or Mars.

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