The OF Blog: Debuts and hype

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Debuts and hype

I've been thinking on this one for a while now, especially after reading this post on SFF World, but I can't help but to wonder at some people's fascinations with searching for the "hot new release." It's bad enough when erstwhile trendsetters such as Rolling Stone try to proclaim what is the latest and greatest, but it seems doubly artificial when it comes to books.

What is so damn important about discovering THE debut of 2008 or whatever year? Does there have to be such a thing as THE debut of the year for there to be a nice selection of books? Is it more about having bragging rights and pimping this or that author/series/etc. first? I just don't know, as it seems rather pointless to me at times. People being disappointed that there is no "consensus" debut that is a "must-own/read?" What the hell?

If one wants to know the "true" best debut for any given year, wait about 5-10 years at least. Some books are not hyped to the moon immediately, but yet build gradually via word-of-mouth to become bestsellers within a few years. Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind/La sombra del viento took years to rise to megaseller status and that was after Zafón had already written a few other well-regarded releases. Same holds true with a George R.R. Martin, or on a lesser scale, newer authors such as Catherynne M. Valente and Cory Doctorow, to name just two out of many. More often than not, I suspect that the value of a debut relies more on what follows after than upon the initial book. But perhaps others have their own justifications for getting so excited about debuting authors.

10 comments:

Fábio said...

The same thing happens in Brazil, where right now there are an entire generation sprouting with first novels and story collections.

Recently I wrote an article about that new spree for the Brazilian version of Le Monde Diplomatique and I was severely bashed by a group of writers of the "old generation" (mind you, people my age, 40ish - hell, I belong to this "old generation already) for giving too much attention to the new writers and none at all to Brazilian SF writers of the 1960s.

IMHO, It is important that EVERYONE, from EVERY generation (this being Brazil´s case), may be read and reviewed. At once, simultaneously. This is one of the possible ways for a healthy growth of the genre, I think.

Larry said...

I do agree that it is important to cover the newer releases, but sometimes here in the US in particular, I think often too much is made of the new at expense of the old. Sad whenever that occurs, no?

Dark Wolf said...

I think that is not that important, but it has his importance. I personally am atracted by the known names in libraries and I like to buy the new names too. It's like seeing a new player on your favorite sport (you decide latter if his good or not).

I don't think that it has too be a 2008 debut, but a debate, sure why not? If it will not exist such a debate or a simple presentation I think the debuts of Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, Brian Ruckley, just to name a few, will have less readers.

And for instance you helped me a lot with Zafon's "The Shadow of the Wind", even though I think the book was translated 4 years ago in English. By the way I wait my Amazon order, that contains his novel.

Lawrence said...

I am with you there Larry, why should we give a shit about the next big thing? And, on a related note, why should we even concern ourselves with the best that has been published this year? It almost feels too narrow-minded to me, as if you just disregard the rich variety of works that have been produced in the past. If you pick up a work here and there, the works that have "ripened", you'd probably have a more enjoyable reading year (quality-wise) than if you're strictly sticking to 2008 releases.

ThRiNiDiR said...

It's as pointless as any top 10 list.

Larry said...

Promoting a personal good read is, of course, a good thing when done in moderation. In the next couple of weeks, I plan on making a post about a June 2008 release that I think is really good, Mr. Fooster: Traveling on a Whim. However, it is not a debut book nor is it one that will appeal to secondary world fantasy junkies; it is a book that I suspect will appeal more to the tweens and to those like myself nearing middle age.

I very rarely use superlatives beyond "highly recommended" to describe a book; its own merits ought to be enough. Same holds true with debuts. I'm not interested in Rookies of the Year, but rather in books that appeal to me the most. So far, discovering Milan Kundera has been one of the most pleasurable reading experiences for me this year and he's been writing since the 1960s.

Listing newish books that you found to be good isn't a bad thing; taking note of the potentially good authors emerging has some value to it. However, I believe some have taken it a bit too far and have made a fetish out of it, as it sounds more like marketing talk and less of an in-depth discussion of that book/author's merits. I always view end of year lists as being but a cousin to Amazon's Listmania lists: they provide something to consider, but their importance doesn't go beyond providing yet one more little bit of information from which a reader can choose what to read next.

Robert said...

It's just the way our society is built. Whether it's movies, television, music, sports, electronics, etc...people are obsessed with what's new. The hottest products, the exciting young actors / actresses / directors, the hot new bands, the next Michael Jordan, and so on. People are interested in what's new :) And people like to be the first to recognize who the next big thing is.

Heck, I remember when I used to street team for a little band called Hybrid Theory, giving out two-song cassettes of what I thought was the "next big thing". That band renamed themselves Linkin Park and I admit that I took great pleasure in saying "I told you so". It also played a big part in my career path as a music scout...

So I think that's part of it. Just because people like to focus on the "next big thing though", doesn't mean they don't respect the 'classics'.

In my case, I only have so much time, so I wanted Fantasy Book Critic to focus on the new books, not just debuts, but the books that are being released now. The thing is, when there are 50, 60, 70 new books released a month, it's pretty hard to keep track of everything, let alone revisiting the classics. Plus, by now most readers should be aware of who the classics are, so I think that's another reason why bloggers like to focus on new authors and so on.

As for myself, I love reading books by new authors! With established authors, you have certain preconceptions or expect certain things from their novels. With a debut author, you really don't know what to expect and I enjoy that freshness factor :)

I do agree with Larry though that you can't determine a 'true' best debut until years later...

Larry said...

Robert, you address something that lies at the back of my concerns. I had quite a few classes on material culture and until the time of the Modernists or perhaps even later (say, after the early decades of the 20th century), there was much more attention paid to tradition and more of a wariness about "newness." I don't think it's really a conservative/progress divide as much as it is a paradigm shift in cultural values - new is the "in" thing now, but at what cost?

Cool bit about the band you helped "break," though. :D

Robert said...

That's an interesting question Larry. In your studies, what were the reasons for this cultural shift?

Well I wouldn't say that I helped 'break' the band. I know that when I was passing out cassettes, stickers and so on, most people didn't really care. But it was cool being able to rock out to their album months before it hit stores, and I was able to secure an interview with the band, which was the biggest interview I've ever conducted. Of course, that was before they became huge ;) Once they were famous, Dynamic Rock meant nothing to them...

Larry said...

It'd take quite a few books (and an explanation why I chose one model over another) to give a detailed, precise answer, but on a very general level, it was the increased rate of urbanization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with millions uprooting themselves from ancestral lands to move to the city (same thing is occurring now in the favelas/barrios/shantytowns of Latin America, Asia, and Africa), people were thrown into a very alien existence. Tradition didn't help; they had to "forge" a new identity. And with the accreting layers of urban neighborhoods developing, the focus came to be on develop, build up, then tear down to build something anew elsewhere. And slowly that ideal spread into other facets of material culture. Add to that the explicit encouragement here in the US for most of the second half of the 20th century to consume, consume, consume to drive the economy...well, is it really surprising now?

And while you're probably right about the degree of influence you had on it, it's still an attractive thing to think: Hey, I was onto something before others made it the "popular" thing to do!

Very dangerous and addictive thought to have, no?

 
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