Theodore Sturgeon Was an Optimist

Sturgeon’s Law, as everybody knows, is, “Ninety percent of science fiction is crap. But then, ninety percent of everything is crap.”

He was talking about fiction published by professional publishers. In his day, self-publishing did exist, but nobody paid any attention to it. There was no reason to.

Today we’re inundated by the noxious jabber of self-publishing authors. Yesterday somebody on the Facebook authors’ group accused me of being biased against self-publishing. She was right. I’m biased. I’m biased against crap. The problem with self-published SF and fantasy is that approximately 98% of it is crap.

Tonight I happened to stumble upon a self-published fantasy novel, available for 99 cents as a Kindle download. I’m really tempted to buy it, just so I can have the evil pleasure of ripping it to shreds. I doubt I’ll bother. I already have enough of a reputation as a curmudgeon; I don’t need to reinforce it.

Also, it’s a foregone conclusion that the author would learn nothing from a serious critique. Self-publishing authors don’t want to learn. They want to be admired.

Well, okay, maybe just the first paragraph. Here it is, in all its glory:

A stiff, snow-laden wind pushed against Olorin as he walked out into the night. It was bitter and persuaded him to wrap his heavy, brown cloak around him more tightly. The tidy mountain village of Valeskeep hunkered down against the icy winter squall; its hunched, thatched backs oblivious to the journey he must take. ‘Just three ingredients,’ he thought. ‘Three treasures hidden for eons in the ancientness of Naretia. Two I can find easy enough, but pry less easily from the hands that covet them.’

It gets worse after that. Yet strangely, the book has been reviewed ten times on Amazon, and has a solid five-star rating. Let’s see, the author’s mom, his little brother, the nice lady next door, and probably seven reviews that he wrote himself using pseudonyms. Self-publishing authors do that kind of shit. But let’s get literary.

Rather than “It was bitter and persuaded him to wrap,” the author should simply have written “He wrapped”. The notion that the village rooftops are oblivious to the quest of this particular hero is just plain ridiculous, but if the wind is busy persuading a guy of something, oblivious roofs may be par for the course.

Question: Are thatched roofs impervious to stiff winds? Or would all the thatch blow off? I don’t know the answer offhand, but if  you live in a mountain village that’s subject to snowstorms, I’ll bet you’d prefer a sturdy slate roof.

The land of Naretia has, it seems, an “ancientness.” I wonder if other parts of the land have a modernness. I’m a little worried about those hands, too: The hands are already clutching the treasures, yet they covet the treasures. Usually one covets what one doesn’t have, and usually it’s the owner of the hands that does the coveting.

The viewpoint character is confident that he can find two items that have been hidden for eons. I don’t know quite what to think about that, but I’m fairly sure his confidence shouldn’t be announced so brazenly in the very first paragraph of the book.

Then we have an adjective (“easy”) where an adverb (“easily”) is grammatically necessary. At a guess, the author didn’t want to repeat “easily,” so he changed one of them in a feeble effort to make the sentence read more entertainingly. The semicolon after “squall” is wrong, and the comma after “stiff” is not much better. Finally, there’s no need to put single quotes around an internal monolog; straight italics will do just fine.

I’m not going to tell you the title of this book, but you can probably find it by searching for “Naretia.” Go ahead — read the whole first chapter online for free. I dare you.

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