I’ve been reading a lot more of late. Having begun Mark Twain’s Autobiography, Leviathan Wakes (Now A Major Syfy TV Series, The Expanse), The Six-Gun Tarot and the second of the Wheel of Time Series, The Great Hunt, I’ve had ample opportunity to cross check the writing styles.
For me, great writing stands alone. Back when Tolkien’s LOTR novels were being made into movies, there was an outpouring of novels with the phrase “Like Middle Earth but better!” on the backs, or “Greatest fantasy adventure since Tolkien!” The spinoff books–some very successful–all playing off the idea of his works (Like Terry Brooks’s Sword of Shannara series and Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series) had the same feel of Tolkien, only light. In fact, I’d call them Tolkien Lite. As a disrespectful term.
Now I see “Think Game of Thrones with Bocci Ball!” or “John Doe, and his family, has a coolness factor so high, it’s like Harry Potter had John McClane as a father, AND THEY WERE ALL LANNISTERS!” While this isn’t exactly what I’m reading on the back of boring old fantasy novels, I’m not being hyperbolic. I did see a similar phrase somewhere.
These people, while possibly successful, are not great writers. You can’t take a powerful writer and say, “This writer is JUST LIKE another writer, ONLY BETTER,” and get any respect. If ever I get picked up by a big publisher, and they say anything of the sort on the back of my work, I will straight-up drop the publisher. One of the books I’ll discuss today is touted as a Martin Lite, even though he’s nothing of the sort.
Anyway, back to topic, I have The Great Hunt, Leviathan Wakes, and Six-Gun Tarot all lined up in front of me (I’ll leave Twain’s Autobiography alone. As a writer, I really can’t touch it with a fifty foot pole. I mean, the man is a legend). One is fantasy, one is science fiction, and the last is alternative wild west magic history. All are from the same genre, generally speaking. I knew The Great Hunt to be a very well-written book, because of recommendations, and the novel itself standing the test of time. It’s concise, descriptive and flows, and has fleshed-out characters that really jump into your head. They fight each other, dynamically, and work together like people. The flaws are small: magic/political factions seem too weak and simplified and I wanted more oomph from them, and some of the characters develop in such leaps and bounds that make me feel hesitant to believe (and, if you read the previous post, Jordan hews quite completely to the D&D stance of developing a character).
Leviathan Wakes, a novel that’s reaching a minimum amount of success, tells a delicious story. While it doesn’t taste as grandiose as The Great Hunt, with characters who are sketched moreso than fleshed coming from a writer more interested in telling the story than painting a picture and settings that seem reminiscent of Blade Runner without the neon lights, it captures my attention and interest. In fact, this novel has my interest (STILL!) halfway through the book because of the hook of the first chapter (not saying the rest of the novel hasn’t been interesting: it has). The writer drops a morsel that is so strange and complex that I’m drawn in, and want to know the resolution. Then Mars attacks the asteroid belt and all hell breaks loose. This writing is mediocre but riveting. It fulfills my need to learn and grow with the characters. These guys don’t “level up” the way Jordan’s Wheel of Time novels do, but they grow and change and fight through. Powerful stuff. I would recommend.
Six Gun Tarot is a total letdown. Where The Great Hunt flows through scenery with lush, crisp landscapes and Leviathan Wakes captures your interest through intrigue and political complexity, Six-Gun Tarot scribbles through like a sixth grader who wants to get an A on a test. All the characters exist for the story: they have no background, no complexity, no extra quirks or interests. The scenery is bland and the narrator is unapologetically docile. Because of the docility of the story, all the characters seem uninspired and walk through the action/reaction scenarios with dull eyes. The writer’s credentials seem stunning, with knowledge in forensics and occult and crime and all the things I’d think could add extra layers to a book. Yet this work feels very, very poorly written. He even has chapters where he breaks from the entire story for conversations between angels. The topics, the kernel of the story is right up my alley. The writing is so lacking I want to scream. Also, I bought the second in the series, and I regret it.
These three styles couldn’t be more different. In my opinion, the difference is mostly in skill. All three are topics of interest, all three are quite different in execution. The first is polished to a shine, whether it’s from proper writing ability or editing/proofing/etc, the second flows and grows with mediocre amount of skill or polish, and the third straight up rots the moment you read the first paragraph, through unskilled or cost-saving techniques.
Which of the three do you think has “A bit of George R. R. Martin with all the different characters and brutal death scenes”? If the book has NOTHING to do with what Martin does except for a lackluster lineup of deaths, PLEASE, do not use this as a catch for someone to buy the book. It feels like click-bait, only for a novel.
Anyway, if you want to read some good fantasy (that I enjoy, at least), check out Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Also, come out from under your rock. Haha If you want to read some dumbed-down science fiction from a very intelligent writer, check out the Leviathan Wakes series. If you want to lose hours of your life you’ll never get back, tear the pages out of Six-Gun Tarot and eat them like a billy goat. You’ll be far more entertained with the book that way than by reading it.