On Fun Books and Discourse
I like reading fun books. I like writing fun books. This make come as a surprise since I often complain about not being able to enjoy most books, which gives some the impression that I have hoity-toity tastes. Which I do, but not always.
Very personally I have specific ideas about books, mainly to do with prose. It’s not the most popular opinion ever but I don’t think of prose as simply a vehicle for story. There are plenty of high-concept books with the most hooky, exciting premises ever but if I crack its Kindle sample open and find the prose along the line of Charlaine Harris or Dan Brown I’m going to close the tab. No ideas are so fantastic that they cannot be ruined by poor writing. I’m not going to care about your characters or plot or concepts if the sentence level is simply bad or so dull that my eyes keep glazing over trying to read it.
The popular idea is that language doesn’t matter and prose exists only to deliver the story—that so-called ‘transparent’ prose is the best because it ‘doesn’t get in the way’, and prose that is assembled better than dollar-store toys is 'inaccessible’, difficult and most of all pretentious. There’s a clear hostility to this from some readers: they feel that if the author uses a word they’re unfamiliar with, then they are being shown up and the author is jeering at them personally. It doesn’t just get in the way of fun, it is a mortal insult. How dare.
Put another way, I feel pretty vindicated when people finish one of my books in just a few days. They’re short books, of course, but my prose isn’t what most would call ‘transparent’. I enjoy the way language sounds when arranged with thought. I don’t like sentences that are the linguistic equivalent of whitewash and plywood. I prefer something more lasting and a little nicer-feeling: there is more to prose than function. And I make no pretension about my books! My most recent titles are mostly fast-paced quick reads meant to entertain. They’re lesbian power fantasies with action and sex, and it doesn’t seem the way I choose to write is ‘getting in the way’ of fun for my readers. As it turns out, prose and fun do not stand in opposition.
(Which should be obvious: I think Oyeyemi’s books are fun and the prose is silky-smooth. But being fun doesn’t mean they’re vacuous or have nothing to say; fun and substance don’t stand in opposition either.)
Speaking of which, the pre-order for my next Machine Mandate book is up! Links: Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon CA, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and Kobo. Paperback edition will probably be available at a later time.
Shall Machines Divide is something I pitched as ‘Killing Eve meet Fate/zero in space’ but it’s primarily my long pent-up frustration with Fate being so, you know, fucking straight. Why did they queer-bait us with Artoria and Irisviel? Anyway, it’s great having another book with a butch on the cover: targeted marketing, right? Her name is Thannarat, an ex-detective and champion at brooding, and she’s 189cm tall (6’ 2’’ or so). Her heroic spirit—sorry, her femme is an AI named Daji, who is tiny (she tailor-made herself to appeal to brooding butches) but wields a huge sword that she collapses and stores in her own body. What can I say, robots are versatile characters. Virtually anything and everything could be going on in that chassis. Every AI in this book uses a huge weapon.
Please pre-order a copy so that if I meet a personal goal of units moved, I can drop the first chapter (and then if I meet yet another goal I’ll drop a prequel story with a cameo from Orfea and Krissana).
There’s been a thread that went viral about fanfic and I found something interesting in the replies.
The knee-jerk reaction to ‘fanfic is bad’ being ‘original fiction is bad too’ is common, but the specificity of this strikes me as odd. I imagine it’s rooted partly in the romanticization of starving as an artist—publishing is selling out and makes you a cog of the machine, etcetera, therefore fanfiction is pure due to involving no money.
The media franchises on which most fanfiction is based are, of course, entirely formulaic (no one would argue Disney puts out avant-garde cinema). Suggesting original fiction is not formulaic is silly. Singling out queer fiction as ‘low-effort, lowest-common-denominator’ seems, however, bitter and odd. Your queer fanfiction is not valued? Unfortunate. That doesn’t mean all queer art should be just as devalued (and anyone can, of course, self-publish on Amazon; you can try your hand at it instead of sitting there fuming that other queer writers are getting paid at all while you can’t pay rent with kudos). It’s kind of like the minimum wage argument. You may be underpaid, but that doesn’t mean the minimum wage for people paid less than you shouldn’t increase.
On that note, Love Kills Twice by Rien Gray looks intriguing and I loved the excerpt, so I’ve pre-ordered that. It’s a contemporary noir romance with a non-binary assassin and a bisexual femme who hired them to kill her husband; now there’s a potent setup. Finally something to cure my Aud Torvingen fix! Plus, I love supporting queer writers in ways that enable them to, you know, eat.
Next, I have been watching the live-action adaptation of Kakegurui. It’s fantastic! The production values are high. The acting is amazing (they do the faces!). Every episode is shot with stunning clarity, the lighting is intentional and gorgeous. Just look at it. It’s amazingly faithful to the anime as well, while adding a few touches of its own (such as, incredibly, an Unlimited Blade Works meme). Completely over-the-top and also a complete joy. I haven’t watched all of it yet so I don’t know if it covers the tower arc (or whether it keeps the onscreen lesbianism) but I hope that it does.