As always, I take a moment to remind everyone out there that my 10th novel, Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest, is out in stores now. I’d recommend buying it, and if you like it, buying another copy and giving that as a gift to a friend. Or just mentioning it in passing conversation with your friends once every hour or so. Maybe getting a tattoo of the cover. Maybe make up a little song about it, post it on the Youtube, and make both of us very famous. I’d be very cool with that.
Basically, spread the word, Action Force. The longer the book is out, the more important word of mouth is, and I rather like getting paid to write books and wouldn’t mind continuing to be paid to do so for a few more years at the very least. As much as I might like to believe otherwise, my career depends entirely on your efforts. So, hey, no pressure, but you are the only thing standing between me and unemployment, and I’ve never had a real job, so I’d be kind of screwed it the bottom drops out of this racket.
But enough sniveling self-promotion from this C-list novelologist . . .
I finally watched some of Game of Thrones, and I can say it just isn’t for me. I’m not making any judgments on quality. There’s little doubt the show is well-made on every conceivable level. The acting, the direction, the plotting, the scripting, and so on. It sets a standard of excellence that fantasy fans could only have dreamed of a few years ago.
But it just isn’t for me.
Understand, this is not a criticism. I think it’s okay to admit that some things, despite being well-made, are not going to be to our tastes. I don’t like pineapple on pizza, and there’s really not anything that can be done to fix that. And I prefer my fantasy . . . well . . . more fantastic. And watching this show, it just makes me miserable.
It is, by the literal definition, a miserable show. It features miserable characters in a miserable setting doing miserable things to each other. It is a story designed, by intention, to take much of the fun out of fantasy and replaces it with a more “mature” version. While I might not agree with that interpretation of “mature”, I can’t argue with its success. And I’m not begrudging the show, its creators, or its stars their success. They’ve earned it, and good for them.
But, yeah, it’s not for me.
I’m not here to talk about a specific show, but to talk about the transformation of a culture. I won’t label it as good or bad because change is change. It can be good or bad, and is often both at the same time. But I get that this is the future of fantasy and science fiction, and it isn’t a place I’m very interested in going.
I also finally get why I will never convince many people that I am not a “light” writer. It’s not just because I’m not interested in maturity for maturity’s sake. It’s because the entire definition of what constitutes maturity is different than it was even a few years ago. While my stories would never have been considered “dark”, they are even lighter by comparison.
Everything is relative, and the darker mainstream fiction gets, the lighter mine becomes. As people become embroiled in more and more soap opera-like sagas, my standalone stories are working uphill to be considered anything other than trivial snacks. And I get that. I even accept it. What choice do I have?
I’ve railed against the grimdarking of popular culture in general, but there’s little point in denying it is how things are going. When even Superman is maudlin and mopey, it’s safe to say we are living in a different world than I ever expected to be in. Speaking of which, a friend of mine said that he didn’t understand why anyone thought Man of Steel was so dark, and I realized that he wasn’t far off the mark. If you’d tried to pass of the unpleasant version of Superman in the 8o’s, it probably wouldn’t have been well received. But today, a Superman who leaves Metropolis in ruins and who struggles to do the right thing isn’t much different than most mainstream heroes. Watching Metropolis fall to rubble or this Superman kill a guy doesn’t draw much attention from at least half the audience. Heck, Superman even kind of feels bad about it for a few minutes, so, hey, that makes him seem positively quaint by today’s standards.
We are living in the culture where a hollow deconstruction like Kick-Ass can be viewed as groundbreaking and where I read “Good guys are boring” at least once a day when perusing the internet.
I get all that, and I realize it doesn’t help any that I’ve become reflexively more interested in heroism and sincerity as a response. Where once I might have enjoyed cynical anti-heroes, I find them more and more off-putting. When I watched Game of Thrones, I realized I could only watch so much of the despicable characters mutilating innocent victims before I needed a hero to sweep in and do something about it.
But heroes . . . they’re old-fashioned. Now, we’re all just living in shades of gray, and in a world where there are no heroes, the only way to make the bad guys bad is to make them so terrible that they fill the audience with utter disgust. And I can even live with that, but I can’t help but feel like we’ve lost something important in the transition. Or not. I don’t know.
Given the nature of current popular culture, there’s little chance of me ever being taken seriously as a writer. I’ll certainly be good for a laugh or two. I might even give the more thoughtful reader something to think about. But I still have a tendency to make even my bad guys into good guys (of a sort), and I’m unapologetic of my love of heroes who step up and do the right thing because they are genuinely heroic. I’m not going to drop in a rape scene to show how bad the bad guys are. I’m not going to mutilate the heroes’ scrappy girl or boyfriend just to show you how serious I am.
That’s not something I’m interested.
That’s not entirely true. If HBO or Showtime or anybody came to me with the idea of turning one of my books into a “mature”-style show, I would be more than happy to jump on board that train. Recognition is everything in this biz, and I’d be an idiot to turn something like that down. And if such a show came out half as good as Game of Thrones, I’d have every reason to rejoice.
But I realize that the odds of this happening are pretty damned small, and they’ll only get smaller as I continue on my own path. I see that path going away from serious artist each passing day. That’s a problem I haven’t figured out how to solve yet because if it continues at it does, my books will be considered lighter and lighter and lighter until they’re considered to be little more than cotton candy of fiction.
I think it’s okay to admit that I’m a little bit troubled for my future as a writer, and that those worries are only getting worse as time passes. I admit this to you, Action Force, because it’s not getting any easier. I love writing fiction, but I feel the gulf between myself and pop culture widening, and it is kind of scary. It’s why I take something like Man of Steel so personally. Aside from the fact that it screws with one of my greatest heroes, it’s also a grim omen of a world where what I write will be less and less relevant.
And here’s where I would normally try to put some kind of positive spin on things, but I hate to say it, I’m not sure how optimistic I am at this point. It’s not the end of the world just yet, and I make no judgments on the choices others make in their entertainment. But there are times, more and more, where I’m not sure whether what I write will be deemed valuable in five or ten years.
And that scares the crap out of me.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,