Revenge of the Tedium

Thursday, June 18, 2009 - 11:00 AM

At the choke point just before finals, I am also looking at a trip to France at the end of next week, and that will be the break before life slows down rather considerably. It is amazing how time consuming wedding planning is, and how much it occupies your brain even when you aren't thinking about it. Combine this with two large, intensive school projects, and the creative brain finds itself with cramps.

Speaking of cramps, I finally dragged myself through 'The Harlequin', by Laurell K. Hamilton. I believe it will be the last book by that author I read unless someone offers me a remarkably positive review of another book. Part of my motivation in reading through this series was to mark the progression of a story which has proven to be tremendously popular to fans of the modern-supernatural genre. I wanted to read through it to see how situations and characters panned out, and in my own slightly vindictive way, mark what I feel I could have done better so I can go off and do better in some work of my own.

I'll say it again. The early Anita Blake books were not bad. They weren't awesome, in my opinion, but Hamilton examined lots of little tidbits about how the world would be different if the supernatural were real and everyone knew it. There was a lot of flavor there, and a potentially wonderful contrast between Blake and the 'monsters' she was hunting. The last book that I actually enjoyed reading was 'Blue Moon', largely for the presence of a well-written villain whose impact on the story is pervasive throughout the book. But the villain doesn't even make a personal appearance until the book is well underway, and in fact, even though his name comes up, he's just a random name for much of the story. I liked that.

My problem with the later books was that they are drowned in sexually driven melodrama, completely obscuring and later replacing investigative storylines peppered with curious alternate history facets. There is an attempt to make this melodrama supernatural by tying all sorts of metaphysics to sexual/emotional activity, but the melodrama remains mundane. As the books progress and the main characters become increasingly dysfunctional as well as powerful, the plots became random monster of the week issues. These plots are sometimes twined with the usual shopping list of difficulties regarding who is sleeping with whom and why, and let me assure you that this drama is not nearly as interesting as it could be.

I can understand the emphasis on sex. Sex sells, and everyone knows it. Everyone can readily see that human beings are voyeurs. We love to peer at the complications in other people's relationships and talk about them. It is appealing to watch extreme emotions get batted back and forth. So, in this regard, I can see why these later Anita Blake books are popular.
My problem with the story is that the characters have become caricatures, and I have therefore ceased to care about them. They are little paper cut outs with names and a select wardrobe of emotional issues and/or power sets. They really haven't changed much at all for several books, and if they do change it is usually to be decidedly for or against Anita, who gains some new special ability or power each book. Unfortunately, these new powers don't make Anita any more interesting to me.

My disgruntlements with the story aside, I'll call this good exercise. People in the future may not enjoy the books that I write. People may pick over them as I have just done with Hamilton's work. My purpose in reading and rereading here is to discover those pieces of writing I do not want to find in my own, and to learn more about why I like or dislike... and hopefully minimize any dislike for my general audience.

Of course, my love of surrealism is probably going to make certain that my chosen audience will never be general.



At June 23, 2009 4:05 PM, Blogger C Hanson said...

General audience or not, your writing is too good to spend too much time reading bad books just because they're popular and you want to learn what sells. You could spend the rest of your life reading bad books that sell! So no one will fault you for not keeping up with Hamilton's oeuvre. Besides, Tanith Lee sells, too, and whips up a better souffle.


At July 30, 2009 7:04 PM, Anonymous Lon Sarver said...

Hi. I'm one of Adriane's housemates. Good to virtually meet you.

Hamilton's books do pick up again later on. The concept of plot does make an appearance, though it hasn't yet gotten back up to the best of the early books.

Just finished reading through the archives. You're a fine writer, and I'll be in line to buy when you're published.


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