No, Fantasy Fiction is Not Being Destroyed by Mega Multi-Volume Series. Or Deadly Octopi.

Yes, I’m alive, shut up.

Recently, folks on SFFWorld.com brought to my attention a new column in The Guardian newspaper by Damien Walter on the current tyranny of the mega sized, multi-volume series in fantasy fiction. I.E. Game of Thrones is ruining everything! And sidelining anything that isn’t a mega-sized, multi-volume fantasy series in book publishing. Because fiction publishing is run by underwear gnomes apparently.

I like Walter, I do, but this article (and to a lesser degree, an official counter “response” composed by new author Natasha Pulley, which was equally tone deaf about the actual fantasy field,) is an excellent example of why more people don’t find and read good books — because writers like Walter tell them that the field is overrun with whatever has been designated the current trendy “problem” that is killing everything off, so why bother. If the media would stop sounding death dirges as the only thing that ever interests them about fictional works, we’d have twice as many fiction readers, rather than a population that is continually taught that they’ll hate most fiction out there.

Nothing ever kills anything off in fiction publishing. (Or for that matter, in most forms of art.) Popularity is not a death sentence for everything else and one thing being popular doesn’t mean that other, different things are not equally or more popular. Also, authors are not herded by publishers like camels. Anyone who has worked with authors know that they are worse than cats.

Anyway, I thought I would reprint my response below here. But despite my ire, do check out Walter’s short fiction work where you can find it and Pulley’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Watchmaker of Filligree, due out in July from Bloomsbury in the U.K. (See, now was that so hard, Guardian columnists?)

It’s not a very accurate reading of the fantasy market. Which given that it’s coming from Damien Walter, who should know better, is annoying.

Mega-sized, multi-volume series are almost entirely the domain of alternate world “epic” fantasy. Because they are epics, which is supposed to be a sweeping, big story by definition. Other alternate world novels are shorter, serial series or stand alones like Katherine Addison’s award-nominated Goblin Emperor, which barely qualifies as mega-long, if that.

Contemporary fantasy uses long running series that are on average not mega in size, like mystery series, as well as various stand alones. Only once in a while does it do mega sized series books. Historical fantasy also does stand alones, shorter serial series and occasionally mega-sized multi-volumes. Comic fantasy does either shorter serial series or stand alones. Dark fantasy and horror are usually stand alones, although if it’s a dark fantasy involving a multiverse or alternate world, it might be a mega series. Some horror novels that are standalones are very thick, but that’s just one book. Multiverse usually involves a series, but often not very large ones. Futuristic fantasy can be large, either as a series or standalones, but is not routinely so, being mostly serial series and trilogies.

YA fantasy contains all the various sub-settings of fantasy. They have few stand alones in fantasy — they tend to all be series. They range from fairly short, and usually contemporary set serial series to larger epic alternate world series. But because the contemporary fantasy setting is more popular in YA than the alternate world settings, YA tends to average on the shorter side. Some of its most popular series, Eragon, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, are thick epic series, but many others are not.

Fantasy published in general fiction tends to be stand alones and may be long or short, depending on what it is. For instance, Touch by Claire North, put out by Redhook, a general fiction arm of Hatchette, is a medium sized standalone dark fantasy thriller.

So basically “fantasy” authors don’t have to move away from mega multi-volume series because not all of them are doing mega multi-volume series. In fact, it’s rare that an author manages to do one past three books. The ones who publish in alternate world fantasy have routinely experimented with different forms — one long series like Song of Ice and Fire, multiple shorter trilogy series in the same universe or a mix of stand alones and trilogies in the same universe like Joe Abercrombie does, shorter serial mystery-like series like Alex Bledsoe’s Eddie LaCrosse series, multiple trilogy series with different publishers, large duologies, stand alones, etc. David Gemmell, who wrote a lot of historical fantasy, as well as alternate world fantasy, did everything from stand alones to his 9 volume Drenai series.

But that’s inconvenient for the hook. The hook is that because Game of Thrones, five years in, is still a very popular t.v. show, and based on a nearly twenty-year-old series written by an author who was already a bestseller when he started it, (and from whom his publisher originally wanted only four books,) that clearly this is only now warping the entire field of fantasy fiction because some other lower rung bestseller guy got a book deal for a new trilogy. Because the fiction market is symbiotic and so publishers slap that it’s like George Martin on anything epic fantasy, they must be hounding authors for only that as the only thing in fantasy that is selling or getting made into a t.v. show. (Pay no attention to Vampire Diaries, or Bitten, The Leftovers, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Outlander, etc.) Because only one thing in any field can be popular at a time and it wipes out everything else, really it does. So anything else is “sidelined” right now because also a nearly thirty-year-old epic fantasy series that was supposed to be seven books in the nineties ended up being fifteen books that took more time and lost its author. And because a twenty-five-year-old epic fantasy series briefly had a t.v. series that flopped several years ago.

Because trilogies! That they’ve been doing since the seventies. And which consist of three books, technically multi-volume but please.

The reality is that the contemporary fantasy bestsellers, like Kelley Armstrong’s shared universe series, some of which were adapted for t.v. show Bitten, routinely outsell most alternate world fantasy fiction, as does for that matter bestselling fantasy romance, most of which is contemporary set. And that setting also means they have better odds for being turned into a t.v. series or a movie, especially if it’s YA. Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London series is coming to British t.v. and Daniel Jose Older’s new series Bone Street Rumba just got optioned. That’s hardly sidelined. Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant isn’t sidelined. Neil Gaiman’s latest bestselling short story collection is not sidelined. Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs aren’t sidelined (and Butcher had a short-lived t.v. series that did establish a cult following before being axed.) Lauren Beukes’ bestselling stand alone The Shining Girls did just fine. And the late Sir Terry Pratchett is still kicking most authors’ asses in sales.

What Games of Thrones is actually doing is bringing in a flood of new readers, who are reading the books in Martin’s series and then many of them, especially with the series unfinished, going browsing and picking up not only alternate world fantasy but lots of other fantasy stories too. And science fiction, horror, suspense, romance, YA. None of which publishers expect to perform like Song of Ice and Fire. It would be nice, they want breakout hits, but they aren’t idiots. And the break out hits in fantasy aren’t necessarily coming from alternate world fantasy. (Though Kingkiller Chronicles is also coming to t.v.)

If he really wanted to help authors he thinks are getting sidelined by Game of Thrones, talk about some of those authors then. Media coverage of fiction books is so rare, any little bit helps. But nobody has actually been sidelined by Game of Thrones. Instead, Martin is helping to fund half the category field; certainly everybody else on the list in Penguin Random House (which is half the publishing industry at this point.)

*The response by author Natasha Pulley that asserts writing short fantasy fiction is hard is equally silly, given that fantasy authors have been doing it for over a hundred years. And that her up-coming debut historical fantasy novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree, is only 336 pages long. But we won’t hold it against her or Walter on the fiction side. If we had to reject authors for all the silly things they say about the market, we would have little to read.

 

 

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Oracle by Susan Boulton

My pal Sue is having her first novel debut this year from British publisher Tickety Boo Press and it’s a pip. Oracle is a secondary world gaslight fantasy, chock full with train crashes, riots, politics and magic both poignant and malicious. It’s a world undergoing radical social change as it becomes industrialized, a world in which wandering mad prophets are made with magic out of those who have died. I interviewed Sue about her new work and her future plans for SFFWorld.com. You can check out the link here below, and the book is available as an e-book internationally, and a print book in British bookstores, Amazon U.K. and from Tickety Boo directly, including international shipping.

http://www.sffworld.com/2015/04/susan-boulton-interview/

Sue has been publishing short fiction and has had a devout quiet cult following for some time. I’m delighted her work is now being made available to a larger audience, and in such a fun and imaginative novel as Oracle.

 

 

 

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Little Note/Up-Date On the Women in Film

So it’s been a bit hectic. The Hugo Awards drama I’ve commented some on at Whatever and SFFWorld, and then had to re-think some of it as weirder and weirder information keeps coming into it. So I’ll probably post some links to articles about it in the Social Equality section by others, but otherwise, I’m moving on. When things get more equal in society, there will be this sort of blow-up reaction from some.

As expected, I did miss at least one woman fronted action film for 2015 — Survivor, starring Milla Jovovich, so we do get some of her despite the next Resident Evil film’s schedule delay. It’s a spy thriller where Milla is a Foreign Service Officer in London who has to go on the run and deal with Pierce Brosnan’s baddie. It’ll be hitting movie theaters in the beginning of June. Angela Bassett is in it too. Looks like a lot of action:

Also missed, a prestigious bio pic, Suffragette, about the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S., and a thriller based on the novel by Laura Lippman called Every Secret Thing, starring Diane Lane, Elizabeth Banks and Dakota Fanning.

The first, sleepier part of 2015 had a hit with spunky version Cinderella (not unexpected,) with $494+ million box office so far, the animated Home with $326+ million, and Insurgent, #2 in the Divergent franchise, taking in over $272 million. Not a bad start, and women have been helping the more ensemble giant action pictures too, such as Furious 7 and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Did I see any of those? Only Age of Ultron so far. I’ll probably see most of the others later. I’ll give an Avengers #2 review in a bit.

Also, books! What? Stop laughing. Really, I’m going to talk about some books this week, I swear.

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Women In Film, Part 2 — 2015 Analysis

In this Part 2 of Women in Film, we are moving on from 2014 to our new year 2015.

2015 is going to be the year of big returning franchises. Some of the biggest of the biggest are set to hit from now in April through December this year: James Bond dusts himself off, a re-booted Mad Max, a new Jurassic Park, an alternate timeline (reboot) Terminator, Mission: Impossible V, and the big daddy of them all, the return of Star Wars, the final chapters, now that Disney bought out George Lucas. All of them are male-centric, and added to them are the starting films in Marvel’s multi-studio plan for world domination: Avengers 2, Ant-Man and a reboot of the Fantastic Four in the ancillary Marvel mutant-based universe owned by 20th Century Fox. Marvel has plans for the ladies (see below,) but they don’t really start this year (unless you count the wonderful show Agent Carter on television.)

So it doesn’t look like an ideal year for women film stars and I’m not going to pretend it will be a female showcase, but it’s not going to be a down-tread either. It’s kind of interesting what they’re doing. The new Bond film, Spectre, has been playing up its women more than usual – Monica Bellucci especially, and Lea Seydoux and Stephanie Sigman; and Mad Max: Fury Road has gone to enormous trouble to market having Charlize Theron kicking ass as a one-armed cyborg commander, with a bevy of young actresses playing major roles: Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, and Megan Gale. The Terminator franchise knows a warrior Sarah Connor goes over better, so in their new alternate timeline restart, Terminator Genisys, that’s what we’re getting with Emilia Clarke, backed by a possible android-playing Sandrine Holt.

Jurassic World has thrown their marketing focus understandably on having red hot Chris Pratt star, but the film is also featuring Bryce Dallas Howard in the co-star role, along with Judy Greer, Katie McGrath, and Lauren Lapkus. Mission: Impossible V returns, having disappointedly dumped Paula Patton’s very interesting character from the last movie (she’s off doing a t.v. series now,) but has substituted in up and comer Rebecca Ferguson. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been very closed-mouthed about their cast, but we do know that Carrie Fisher returns as Princess Leia and that Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o and Maisie Richardson-Sellers have major roles. And Furious 7 also returns this week, with its multi-ethnic cast in which Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Elsa Pataky, Ronda Rousey, and Nathalie Emmanuel play central roles, an aspect that they always market.

Moving to the female-led action films, so far this year, in what is considered the “dead” period at the start of the season, we’ve had Jennifer Lopez produce and star in the soapy psychological thriller The Boy Next Door, with a tiny budget that produced a solid hit. Jupiter Ascending, starring Mila Kunis, from the Wachowski siblings, was yanked from the summer blockbuster roster last year and dumped into February. While the movie is a bit of a hot mess, it made more sense than Prometheus and was a lot of fun. Its big budget special effects meant it wasn’t likely to be a hit, given the circumstances, but it’s breaking even and still doing world box office.

The big female-led action movie of the year will again be Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, the last film in the hit franchise. As such, and coming out around Thanksgiving a month before Star Wars, it’s likely to do pretty big. Also just coming out now is the sequel to Divergent, called The Divergent Series: Insurgent, with Shailene Woodley, which has already shot past its production budget in a week and is well on its way to being another big hit for that series. Disney is continuing to monetize its park rides with Tomorrowland, a big budget special effects sci-fi movie for the summer, starring Britt Robertson, who gets helped by George Clooney in saving an alternate world from destruction.

Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig again team up in May to produce and McCarthy to star in Spy, a comic spy thriller in which McCarthy plays a pencil-pusher analyst who has to take on a field agent role, backed by Rose Byrne, Jason Stratham and Jude Law. If successful, it puts McCarthy on a three year winning streak. Reese Witherspoon is also doing more producing and starring with Sofia Vergara in a comic buddy action film, Hot Pursuit, in which Witherspoon plays a cop protecting Vergara’s witness in a drug case.

Natalie Portman stars in Jane Got a Gun, a western about a woman trying to save her outlaw husband. And we have a whole passel of women-led thrillers: Selma Hayak produces and stars in a quirky film about a woman staving off assassins in Everly. Halle Berry seeks her stolen son in the film Kidnap. Emily Blunt continues her upward moves by starring in Sicario, as an FBI agent working with the CIA to take down a cartel. Viola Davis produced and stars in with Jennifer Lopez again the revenge thriller, Lila & Eve, in which two mothers go after the killers of their children. Olivia Wilde, Hailee Steinfeld and Nicole Beharie play three women surviving attacks by soldiers in The Keeping Room. Sanaa Lathan stars in the psychological stalker thriller The Perfect Guy, and Margot Robbie returns in the sci-fi post-apocalyptic movie Z for Zachariah, only very loosely based on the 1970’s novel.

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Terry Pratchett Takes Death’s Hand

From Terry Pratchett’s Twitter account https://twitter.com/terryandrob :
AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.

Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.

http://www.pjsmprints.com/

The world of Terry Pratchett was wondrous and wide. It ranged from radio to television to stage to articles to books. It encompassed his beloved novel with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens, his YA fiction, his amazing standalones like Nation, and of course, Discworld, the flat world on the backs of several giant elephants standing on the back of the giant turtle swimming through space that Pratchett visited in numerous books, films, etc. Through Discworld, Pratchett lovingly satirized everything, with such deft, warm strokes that he could get you to laugh and cry at the same time and then go hug your dog. He was a national treasure of Britain, which knighted him, and one of the top twenty bestselling fiction authors in the world.

When Pratchett announced that he had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2007, it was a deep blow to all in SFFH fandom. In the years that followed, Pratchett stumped bravely for more investment in research of the disease, led conversations about it and end of life issues, and wrote more novels as much as he could in the ways that he could. It lulled us into thinking that there would be more time. But there wasn’t. We have to let him go.

But Discworld, we never have to let that go. It lives on in hearts and minds; its many wonderful characters are ours, his gift to us. It’s like the color of magic, always with us — we can just sort of see it if we don’t look directly at it, sort of greenish-purple. So thank you for that, Sir Terry. Thank you for the words.

*And yes, Leonard Nimoy left us as well after a long bout of ill health. I don’t even know how to do that one, so I thought this combination was appropriate and beautiful.

**Some people feel that letting go is too soon. There is a petition to Death to give Terry Pratchett back. It has over 10,000 signatures so far, so you can check it out if you like.

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Women in Film, Part 1 — 2014 Review

It’s time again for Women In Film, where we look at blockbusters, action films of all types and big buzz films to see how actresses are doing in terms of prominence, box office moolah, and improving the state of female movie stars in the business. In this part, Part 1, we’ll be looking back at the films in 2014 to see what happened, and in Part 2, we’ll look ahead at what’s playing and up-coming in 2015 that we know about so far.

This analysis of mine has been going on since 2012, which media up-played as the year of the woman in film, because there were quite a few movies that year headed by women, including big action ones. As we know, part of that media coverage was simply hype – studies show that women are still hugely behind in grabbing major roles, and behind the camera it’s even worse, except for maybe producers. But it was also a valid reflection of shifts due to the trickle, trickle progress of getting Hollywood to accept and happily exploit the box office power of women, to an audience that largely doesn’t really care if it’s a man or a woman, (or even another gender,) helming a film. The year 2014 was, like 2013, a year mainly of sequels, old action franchises and superhero films, with Marvel dominating again (more on that later,) none of which tend to favor women as leads. So it wasn’t a ground-breaking year for actresses, like 2012, but it was a consolidating year, which did confirm that women can bring the box office themselves and are increasingly useful in ensemble action films. The bulkhead that was established still remains, with some interesting trends shaping for up-coming years.

Women had high impact roles in many successful action films this last year in which they weren’t the leads. In the superhero arena, Marvel again made good use of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in the hit Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, and employed go-to geek movie star Zoe Saldana and Doctor Who favorite Karen Gillan, plus a cameo from Glen Close, in the big summer domestic winner, Guardians of the Galaxy. In their ancillary franchises, we had Emma Stone in Amazing Spiderman 2, and X-Men: Days of Future Past making key use of Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, and Ellen Page. Women were front and center in most of the big sequels: 300: Rise of an Empire, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Fast and Furious 6, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Rio 2, The Purge 2: Anarchy, Horrible Bosses 2, Muppets Most Wanted, Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb, and the biggest movies globally: Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. They also had critical leading roles in hits Gone Girl, Interstellar, Hercules, Monuments Men, Non-Stop, The Equalizer, The Maze Runner, the rebooted Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6, Noah, The Imitation Game, Selma, Neighbors, The Nut Job, Dracula Untold, Into the Storm, Blended, The Boxtrolls, and The Book of Life, and Emily Blunt bluntly stole hit sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow from Tom Cruise.

But while women have become an ubiquitous if not always powerful component of the big action films, playing more than just “the Girl,” how about when they lead the movies? The proven player this year again was The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, the next to last installment of the mega-franchise, starring red hot Jennifer Lawrence. Hunger Games 3 won the U.S. domestic box office for the year, and is still making the rounds of foreign box office for over $751 million worldwide so far. That didn’t make the billion club or yet beat installment #2 of the franchise, Catching Fire, but it definitely made its makers happy and sets the stage for the last film in the story to be quite huge.

Mockingjay

The other big female led movie of the year was Disney’s Malificent, a live action alternate version of their animated film Sleeping Beauty, showing the cursing fairy’s side of the story. Starring Angelina Jolie — because who else could have done it that perfectly — Malificent was a big budget film that has taken in nearly $760 million in world box office and will live on television forever probably. (Jolie also got her director on in 2014, with her third film Unbroken, the war bio of Olympian Louis Zamperini, a modestly budgeted action picture that has earned over $160 million and is still opening globally.)

Divergent, considered to be The Hunger Games’ little sister of sorts, was put out as a mid-budget film in the relatively quiet period of March, starring Shailene Woodley. Other recent YA series adaptations had done only middling, and the female led The Vampire Academy, out just before Divergent, had flopped, but Divergent’s high action dystopia brought in over $288 million. Another YA adaptation with a female lead, If I Stay, brought in over $78 million on a miniscule budget, and the buzzy YA romantic drama, The Fault in Our Stars, took in over $305 million on only a $12 million budget.

The surprise hit of the year, however, turned out to be a film called Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson. The mid-budget, largely under the radar sci-fi martial arts thriller ended up with world box office of over $458 million, cementing Johansson’s rep as a star in action films and praised indies. It also meant more interest in inexpensive action flicks featuring a female protagonist, a house built by the Underworld and Resident Evil franchises and recent smaller budget successes like Colombiana and this year’s In the Blood. Continue reading

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Really Interesting Female Directors

I’m in the soup, but this weekend, I thought this article by Julie Zeilinger for Identities.Mic on female directors of color who are doing and will be doing interesting work was worth bringing to attention. Looking forward to the film adaptation of On Beauty by Zadie Smith.

http://mic.com/articles/110456/these-filmmakers-are-wildly-talented-but-you-won-t-see-them-winning-oscars

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