Monday, January 01, 2007

Laurell K. Hamilton

In 1993, Laurell K. Hamilton wrote what was at the time, a huge departure from the conventional worlds of Fantasy, and Mystery genre fiction. She created in Anita Blake, a supernatural detective character that was really quite original. This isn't to say the niche hadn't been mined before (Glenn Cook, Randall Garret, Mercedes Lackey and others), but Anita Blake was a unique and interesting character.

What made Anita great? Well she was both a strong woman, and in many ways a weak and flawed one. Other than the obvious fantasy elements (she can raise the dead for example), Anita was very "real", in that her emotions and insecurities, and reactions felt very much like the person she was supposed to be. You could, with a knowledge of Anitas past, understand her reactions and motivations much as you would a good friend.

Hamilton also populated her books with a slew of well written, well fleshed out side characters; the major s of which having interesting and well realized story arcs, and background details, of the type that make characters come to life.

Finally, she assembled these characters into stories, and indeed novels, that had a narrative and plot structure that kept you interested and involved in these characters LIVES, again as if they were your friends.

This is the best an author of popular fiction can ever hope for in my opinion; and it results in masses of fans deeply involved in the world you have created. They become emotionally involved with your creation, and they feel they have a stake in it. Everything you do with that world has an effect on those people.

... which is a double edged sword.

In 2000, Hamilton began another series based on a similar character and mythos "Merry Gentry"; but she ratcheted the sex up a notch, and all of a sudden her books were selling outside of the genre, and in the romance and mild erotica markets in a major way. She experience huge halo sales from it, so she decided to bump up the sex in her Anita Blake line as well. Lo and behold, more and more sales... but they werent coming from her fans, they were coming mostly from teenage girls and middle aged woman, who were reading them as romance novels, and mild erotica.

Around this time, the entire "modern fantasy/fantasy romance/erotic fantasy" genre absolutely exploded; and Laurell started selling literally millions of books. She of course, seeing that, decided "hey, if a little sex gets me this much, a LOT of sex will get me a LOT MORE".

It's her world, and she can do whatever she wants with it, including destroying it or abandoning it; but as I said, there are now thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of fans, who are deeply emotionally and personally involved in this world..

... and she's destroying it.

What were once great stories, with great characters, have been reduced to purely repetitive sex scenes with filler in between. Never in all my years of reading have I seen a worse case of an author cashing in without regard for anything...

To my mind she's eating her seed corn here, but in the meantime she's making plenty of money off the bodice ripper crowd.

Of course, there has been a quite severe negative reaction from fans to this direction; and in a thread off Hamiltons personal web site, the vitriol goes flying; and Hamilton responds in what can only be characterized as a hysterical manner.

Now, I'm not one for flinging the internet invective much. It's like that poster from a few years ago, winning a flamewar on the internet is like winning a gold medal in the special olympics: sure you won, but you're still retarded.

We call it "poo flinging" for a reason; the screeching monkeys of the 'net world are not exactly speaking, the best folks to take advice or criticism from.

Unfortunately, after "Mistrals Kiss", "Micah", and "Dance Macabre", the woman rather deserves most of the poo flinging.

Honestly, what author of anything other than a harlequin romance novel, would attempt to put out two 220 page large type hardcovers in one year, claim them as real novels; charging $20 each for them; and still have any self respect.

Besides turning her characters into mindless penis receptacles (or equally mindless walking penises); her narratives have compressed themselves into a matter of a few hours, or at most a few days per novel; during which time the protagonists have sex an average of three times (per encounter) every five pages; with at most five pages between sex scenes.

I read "Mistrals Kiss" a few days ago, and it is one of the worst things I've ever read. The entirety of the "novel" (which in reality isn't even a short story; having perhaps five pages of material that isn't sex scenes) takes place when the protagonist is walking from one room to another room a few minutes away; during which time she stops to have sex I believe five times with eight different men.. or it might have been four times with six, I honestly can't remember right now. The total time covered by the book is less than two hours. Two hours, a few hundred yards, a half dozen sex acts, 220 pages, $20.

Honestly, how can she claim anything other than hack status at this point?

Of course doing this has made her rich; whereas writing good, fully fleshed, interesting characters, with satisfying and engaging story arcs, only made her moderately well off.

The woman needs to accept the fact that she's become the Don Pendleton of the modern fantasy/fantasy romance genre; and just be happy at the big fat checks she's cashing; or maybe, just maybe, try and recapture a shred of her dignity, self respect, and class; and start writing the quality material she was doing 6 years, and 10 books ago.

Ms. Hamilton, I'd like Anita Blake back please, and Merry Gentry too; and John Claude and Frost, and Edward, and Dolph, and Richard... I want your stories back, not your libido.

Update: For those of you who like the modern mystery fantasy genre; don't mind a little of the romance crap, like the strong characters and stories etc... there are now many more options available to you; thanks in large part to Hamilton, and Charlaine Harris. I personally recommend Kim Harrison (the hollows series), Kelly Armstrong (the "otherworld" series), and Carrie Vaughan (the Kitty series), for a start. There are a lot of others out there, but the ones I mentioned are consistently good thus far; and they've also maintained a firm footing in modern fantasy without trying to be pseudo-erotica.

Also, if you haven't found them yet, please go read Mercedes Lackeys modern fantasy series "Bedlams Bard" (which is the continuation of the "summouned to toruney" urban fantasy series, paralell to the SERRAted edge books, which I also wish she'd write more of), and "The Diana Tregarde Investigations". Misty has said that she'd love to do another Diana Tregarde but she doesnt think the sales are there. Well, there is enough interest now that Baen is reissuing the books (which have been out of print for a while), and noises are bing made about continuing the series.