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Author Topic: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream  (Read 4401 times)

Offline ultamentkiller

Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« on: November 26, 2015, 04:25:29 AM »
Now, before I propose this question, let me be clear. Mainstream doesn't necessarily mean there's a film adaptation. It means the books have been insanely successful, appearing in the top 10 list of the New York Times Bestseller List. Or somewhere around there.
I would like to gather other people's thoughts on this. It seems that, for books that have been adopted by the public, a lot of criticism comes out of the Fantasy community. There are exceptions of course, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones instantly jumping to mind. But what about the rest?
Maybe this is just me feeling like some of the best series out there are being picked on. I won't deny that it's part of it. Maybe I'm only seeing the negativity because those people are the most vocal. But, through your own observations, do you find this to be the case?
Of course, I'm asking this to the Fantasy community, who I'm accusing of doing this. So maybe the question is, out of all the books mainstreamed by society, how many of those are deserving? Why or why not?
Feel free to answer either or both of those questions below.

Offline ClintACK

Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #1 on: November 26, 2015, 05:02:38 AM »
What does "deserve" mean in this context?

I could see a complaint if a book reached a mass audience through a deceptive advertising campaign and most of the people who bought it didn't enjoy the book.

But if most of the people who bought a book read it and enjoyed it... of course it "deserved" those sales.  Even if it's not my favorite book.  Even if in my opinion it's a terrible book.

I'm more interested in understanding *why* Harry Potter, say, had such broad appeal, than in griping about why books I liked better didn't sell as well.


Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #2 on: November 26, 2015, 08:47:47 AM »
Maybe relevant, maybe not, but one thing that bugs me lots is to see Paul Hoffman's books almost *always* on the special tables at Waterstone's.
The publisher must be paying a lot to promote those books, because they a/ are completely derivative and, most importantly, b/ are truly awfully written, to the point of 3 being completely unreadable.
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Offline Overlord

Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #3 on: November 26, 2015, 08:51:55 AM »
Maybe relevant, maybe not, but one thing that bugs me lots is to see Paul Hoffman's books almost *always* on the special tables at Waterstone's.
The publisher must be paying a lot to promote those books, because they a/ are completely derivative and, most importantly, b/ are truly awfully written, to the point of 3 being completely unreadable.

Agreed. A big part of it is the marketing. They were able to talk supermarkets into stocking the book and putting it in the top 5. Because they are so cheap (2 for £7.00) they sold A LOT of them and exposed them to a wide audience.

Abercrombie, Sanderson, Rothfuss, Butcher, Hobb, Canavan, Weeks, Brett, Aaronovitch all do well on the bestseller lists :)

Of those, Abercrombie, Butcher and Aaronovitch have quite a decent genre-crossover appeal.
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Offline Lady Ty

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Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #4 on: November 26, 2015, 11:29:38 AM »
@ultamentkiller, do you mean books such as the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris series or Stephanie Meyer's Twilight?

They would fit in with Clintack's comments of being deserving even if not one's own choice.. They were unusual enough and entertaining enough to capture the attention of readers who may not normally read fantasy. Then there were film and television series follow ups and maybe people bought the books after seeing those. So whatever they did right to capture the public, they deserve the success they have achieved.

I also suspect timing had a part as both were published not too long after Buffy the Vampire slayer finished  or was nearly ending. That was originally a cult series which became generally popular and maybe those two vampire series also gained from Buffy's success.

The only criticism I have heard within the more  fantasy dedicated community is that they are fairly shallow and don't fit the expected vampire stereotypes. I  don't like Twilight at all because to me the vampires are so weak, but that's only personal preference and they appeal to YA, the original target audience.  I was also  influenced when Twilight  came out by suggestions that they had been deliberately written to "make Vampires more wholesome" and that cracked me up and put me right off, although I read it for curiosity.

The first Sookie Stackhouse made me laugh and was entertaining, but not enough to make me bother with more, but I can understand why it is popular. 

@ClintACK I  defended Harry Potter in the Book Battles and can explain the original appeal of the books

Quote
My vote goes to Harry Potter for the wonderful effect the actual books had of encouraging  youngsters to read*,  before the films came out,  and for the perfect introduction to fantasy it gave them as well. They got so excited each year waiting for the next one and the characters and storylines matured perfectly for the children, which was clever and a good way to gain firm ground.  Most of us adults loved reading them and they were a welcome different approach to magic at school. Just imagine being young enough to almost believe Hogwarts might be real.  8)

* I can remember so many comments in the media and elsewhere from teachers who found non-readers and slow readers were getting stuck into the first book and talking about it all the time, couldn't wait to read it in class, but reading more at home and parents got drawn in as well.  Lemmony Snickett came out about the same time but just couldn't compare with HP.


 

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Offline Yora

Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #5 on: November 26, 2015, 11:31:41 AM »
Breakout success usually is the result of runaway popularity, which can be helped along by intensive promotion, but it generally doesn't say a lot about the quality.
So anytime something becomes super successful there will be plenty of people who are familiar with the broader field who think it's overrated. Which I assume most often to be the case. People outside the field who think it's the unique new greatest thing while not really having anything to compare it to are a minor nuisance, but not really something to get upset about.

An artist getting famous is always mostly luck, with talent and skill being a minor contributing factor. Once you accept that there's really nothing upsetting about some mediocre creator getting all the praise.
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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #6 on: November 26, 2015, 12:14:34 PM »
Once you accept that there's really nothing upsetting about some mediocre creator getting all the praise.
Maybe not 'upsetting' but certainly annoying and unfair (for me)
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #7 on: November 26, 2015, 12:39:18 PM »
Once you accept that there's really nothing upsetting about some mediocre creator getting all the praise.
Maybe not 'upsetting' but certainly annoying and unfair (for me)
Not to mention frustrating as a reader - it can be really difficult to find the better books, especially because so many mediocre ones get such praise. We've discussed Twilight before, I still think that the reason it gets so much criticism is that there are many perspectives from which it has major issues - plot holes, awful writing, shallow characters, pro-abuse messages, etc.
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Offline Rostum

Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #8 on: November 26, 2015, 01:03:53 PM »
The good Reads awards fantasy titles have been discussed elsewhere on the site but when the top selling PR title has ten times more sales than the (real) fantasy titles it's competing against logically it takes the award. Not great for fantasy writers. Twilight did absurdly well for a mediocre book. I haven’t read it but the sprog did to see what the fuss was about and pulled the plot apart at 13.
 Taking the horrific out of horror and making it sexy seems to sell books. Someone is reading them. The writers are becoming successful but whether they have merit is another matter. Perhaps it shows that we are out of step with the mass market?

Offline Yora

Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #9 on: November 26, 2015, 03:00:52 PM »
Once you accept that there's really nothing upsetting about some mediocre creator getting all the praise.
Maybe not 'upsetting' but certainly annoying and unfair (for me)

Well, yes. But I think it's a case of "Hate the game, not the players". It's just the way it is. People participating in the hype for something not particularly noteworthy don't do it on purpose. It's just the best that they know and not a claim that it's superior to other works (which they don't know about).
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Offline ClintACK

Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #10 on: November 26, 2015, 04:08:42 PM »

@ClintACK I  defended Harry Potter in the Book Battles and can explain the original appeal of the books


Oh, don't get me wrong.  I *loved* Harry Potter -- despite all the flaws.  (Don't get me started on why Quiddich is the dumbest sport ever invented.)  I named my dog Hagrid (http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/general-discussion/pets/msg106040/#msg106040). (See icon to left)

Heck, I even more-or-less enjoyed Twilight when I read it.  And its flaws are *much* worse.  (Quick: aside from Jacob and Edward -- name one thing Bella likes or wants.)



I think one of the big "problems" here is that readers of any genre are much savvier to what's become cliche or overused.  We're excited when we read a well-written book that does something *NEW* with the same old things.  But a mainstream audience has probably never even heard these ideas, so the first breakout mainstream book from an obscure sub genre is almost certain to be riddled with cliches.  (They aren't cliche because they're bad -- they became cliche because they work really well -- it's just that they've been overused and don't have that new-idea-smell anymore.)

Take Back to the Future.  It doesn't do anything new with time travel.  (Okay, sticking it in a car is a bit cool, but you know what I mean.  The story of man-goes-back-in-time-and-accidentally-kills-his-grandfather-erasing-his-own-existence has been a cliche for longer than most of us have been alive.  Sci-fi authors were already inverting and playing with the trope in the 1960's.)  But it's a fun story -- the first mainstream time-travel story since H.G. Wells and Mark Twain, and the first one involving a paradox, as far as I know.

Was it good science fiction?  Absolutely not.  But it was a hugely enjoyable film, and it got some of its strength by stealing good ideas from science fiction and serving them up in an easier form.  No mention of wormholes or relativity or many-worlds or alternate timelines or even the word 'paradox'.

The great science fiction coming out around that time -- Brin's Uplift saga.  In terms of science fiction, there's no comparison between the two.  But can you imagine trying to present the Uplift War to a mass audience in a two hour movie?  (It could make a great GoT-style TV season, though, now that special effects are getting cheap enough.)  There are way too many new ideas for a mainstream audience -- exactly the thing that makes it so spectacular for a sci-fi audience.


But, yeah.  I have no explanation for the love of Twilight.  I guess I'm not a teenage girl.

Offline DrNefario

Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #11 on: November 26, 2015, 08:29:59 PM »
I find that the more times you are forced to express an opinion, the more polarised it gets, as if you get exasperated with it. You faintly praise the mediocre thing for a while, and then finally crack and declare it to be the worst thing in the history of things.

There is also the case where you think B is a much better example of the same thing than A, and yet B languishes unknown while the lazy hack creator of A gets to bathe in champagne. Like, say, Foucault's Pendulum being the Da Vinci Code for smart people. Or Battle Royale being the superior version of the Hunger Games. (I've only seen the film of Battle Royale, and didn't think much of it.) This kind of thing happens all the time, in every field, though, and it's often only luck that really separates A and B. Why did Angry Birds get so massive when similar games failed before it? If anyone really knew, they'd do it themselves. It's like pushing boulders up a hill. B rolls back down to the start, but A makes it those crucial extra feet that take it over the peak and let it roll down the other side to success.

Offline Jmack

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Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #12 on: November 27, 2015, 12:04:15 AM »
So, I need to know what books we're actually discussing. Which books have been popular in the mainstream but criticized by the Fantasy community? @ultamentkiller, what did you have in mind?
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Offline Lady Ty

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Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #13 on: November 27, 2015, 12:11:09 AM »
Taking the horrific out of horror and making it sexy seems to sell books. Someone is reading them. The writers are becoming successful but whether they have merit is another matter. Perhaps it shows that we are out of step with the mass market?

The tinge of sinfulness in actually enjoying sex with a supernatural baddie certainly helps give popular appeal.

Does it matter if you are out of step with the mass market? It is very fickle. Depends whether you write specifically for what is latest popular subject or write for love of your chosen genre and your own satisfaction. Using more than one author name, of course, you can do both. ;)



I think one of the big "problems" here is that readers of any genre are much savvier to what's become cliche or overused. We're excited when we read a well-written book that does something *NEW* with the same old things. But a mainstream audience has probably never even heard these ideas, so the first breakout mainstream book from an obscure sub genre is almost certain to be riddled with cliches.  (They aren't cliche because they're bad -- they became cliche because they work really well -- it's just that they've been overused and don't have that new-idea-smell anymore.)


Good valid reasons for difference in opinions.
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Fantasy Books Gone Mainstream
« Reply #14 on: November 27, 2015, 12:25:31 AM »

I think one of the big "problems" here is that readers of any genre are much savvier to what's become cliche or overused. We're excited when we read a well-written book that does something *NEW* with the same old things. But a mainstream audience has probably never even heard these ideas, so the first breakout mainstream book from an obscure sub genre is almost certain to be riddled with cliches.  (They aren't cliche because they're bad -- they became cliche because they work really well -- it's just that they've been overused and don't have that new-idea-smell anymore.)


Good valid reasons for difference in opinions.
Definitely.

It also ties in with something you see quite a bit: someone relatively new to a genre finding out about, reading, and enjoying the less popular/higher quality series, then looking back at the books that got them interested and being able to see that it's flawed (while retaining the positive feelings they originally had for them).

In my case (aside from three series I read as a kid/teenager: Harry Potter, Darren Shan, and Alvin Maker), my introduction to fantasy was Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings, closely followed by Sanderson's Mistborn and Stormlight Archive...  :o
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