Saturday, January 9, 2010

Professional development

I've been reading the serieses (um, what's the plural of series?) of a particular novelist in reverse chronological order as of late, purely by happenstance - I was introduced to her through her latest series, and then happened to find two older ones at a used bookstore. It offered me an interesting perspective on her development as a writer, one I wouldn't have seen if I read in the other direction. For one thing, I wouldn't have made it this far.

The newest series is really quite good, and the characters and setting stay with you afterwards. The previous series is the equivalent of beach reading for the sword-and-sorcery set. I enjoy them when I'm reading them but forget about them not long after I put them down. This may sound like a criticism, although it isn't intended as such; I find most of Tolkein's offspring utterly undigestable, so mindless fun is a huge step up. The series before that - well, it isn't bad. I wouldn't say it's good, either. If I had read it first, I doubt I would have picked up anything else by this author - although if it had been a choice between her next book and the usual airport selection, she might not have lost.

What's particularly interesting is to see writing issues in this earlier book that have been eliminated from her writing by now. One I kept tripping over in the early stuff is changes in the scale of time. You know, two characters are having a conversation, so the action is occurring almost in real time, and then suddenly 15 minutes have passed and the heroine is fixing the ship's engine, or something. These transitions were handled awkwardly in the early book; I kept finding myself going back a few sentences to figure out what I had missed. This isn't a problem in her later books. It's nice to see this kind of development on the author's part, because it sometimes seems as if literary figures spring up fully formed; their later books get deeper and richer, although not necessarily better.*

*Or, unfortunately, they get worse, as every napkin they doodle on gets snapped up by a publisher.

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