Progressive Fiction (not what you think)

The Fabulous Publisher Babe™ follows a thread on reddit that talks about progressive fiction, except it’s not what immediately came to mind. The concept is for a series where the characters grow and age over time, rather than being trapped in a timeless state, book after book.

It struck her as completely wrong for a variety of reasons. Then she and I got to talking about it.

I don’t read a lot of science fiction these days (or much of anything). Partly, it’s a lack of things that entice me, looking at cover and blurbs. She, on the other hand, grabs dozens of samples from anything then reads the first bit to see if it is even worth pursuing enough to check out of a library, let alone buy.

One of the great things that Amazon did was destroy all the gatekeepers preventing writers from publishing their book and connecting with their fans. One of the worst things Amazon did was destroy all the gatekeepers preventing writers from publishing their books and connecting with their fans.

There is a lot of shit out there these days. Diamonds in the rough. But a lot of shit.

I’ve told the story about being in Powell’s books Beaverton for a book signing my wife was doing after OryCon, several years ago. They were all set up, and just waiting for a few hours for the event to start. I had money burning a hole in my pocket, and two deep rows of a big store, both sides, eight feet high. Thousands of shelf-feet of books.

I could not find a book I wanted to buy. Seriously.

She looked at me and said “Write it then.”

That became Auberon, which was originally supposed to be a trilogy. (Stop laughing.)

I hit several top 100 selling Science Fiction subcategories on Amazon last night, hoping I could emulate her idea of grabbing lots of samples and getting lucky. I won’t say I failed, because it is me trying a new way of looking at books.

I failed at finding anything to read. (3/400 is not a great hitting ratio, even outside of baseball.)

I grew up with David Drake and Doc Smith. Glen Cook, back when the Black Company trilogy was all there was (before it sucked). Old school science fiction adventure centered on real people thrust into real but extraordinary circumstances and forced to adapt. (Modern Chosen One fantasy stories do not work for me.)

Based on the blurbs I read last night, I might be one of the few folks selling well that do the sort of thing I do. Not counting dead people, which was about half of many of those top 100 categories (everyone has just discovered that Frank Herbert actually wrote a book once, since adapted into a movie recently), I went through 400 best selling on Amazon and got three samples to try my luck with.

None of them fill me with the sorts of excitement I remember as a kid or young adult. I know that there is good stuff out there, but my reading tastes meander differently than other folks.

Let’s start with that concept of progressive.

I found several series where the entire series is the same story told over and over again with different names. I mean, literally in one series it seemed like every book was about a (different) guy who found a working alien spaceship hidden in his grandfather’s barn, waiting for him to go save the universe. Oh, and he’s also a retired navy seal.

Some of you know who Marty Stu is. That was a metric shit ton of them in the titles I looked at.

And a whole shit-ton of (ALMOST ALWAYS MALE) characters who were extremely TSTL. (And mind you, this is ONLY THE BLURB I’m reading here.)

Another category read like 70s action fiction with the setting changed to SF. One story mentioned the main character as a middle-aged Vietnam vet. Uhm that would be 1990, give or take, not today.

Then there were all the bad-ass US Marine Force Recon Raider Navy Seal hero dude stories where he is is called upon to save the galaxy when aliens invade in the current day and somehow are vulnerable to 9mm bullets and a stiff chop to the throat. Or something. (Seriously? FTL Aliens are not going to invade earth and lose.)

I appreciate that people read for the escapism element, but all of these books were basically hammered down into an extremely narrow sub-sub-sub-genre with a 20# maul. And I’m not that reader.

Real people. Real problems. Real risk. Real solutions.

Can’t tell you how many times I couldn’t even suspend my disbelief to get through the blurb. Chosen One stories. Wish fulfillment fantasies. Fairy godmother aliens (or something). Super SEAL badass warrior human who can defeat every alien in the galaxy as they line up individually to be chopped with a sword or shot in the face.

I wrote Auberon because I couldn’t find something on the shelf at Powell’s that appealed to me. I appreciate today that Powell’s is all about paper, and a lot of SF never makes it that far, so I have a question/challenge for folks out there. Specifically, people who have read a lot of my books. You silly buggers, as it were.

Javier. Jessica. Valentinian. Daniel. Gareth. Phil. Pancho. Fairchild.

If I told you that I was looking for some fun series to wallow in, where the science can be fantastic and the hand-waving a little big, but we have real people doing adventure things, what series would you recommend? I tried Nutall once, but threw the sample away on about page 5. I’ve chucked a lot of stuff by recent Big Name Authors because the rampant sexism on the author’s part left me queasy.

I want big space opera adventure, where the good guys win and the bad guys gnaw on the scenery. Think about the old Lensman books for scale. Less White Savior Chosen One (seriously, Kim Kinnison is about as much as it gets, but those books also date to the 1930s, and Doc was rather liberal for his era. Just not ours.)

What series have you read where the characters age and grow? Jessica’s nine books cover sixteen years of her life, from mid-thirties into early fifties, with all the changes she goes through. Phil picks it up four years later. Heather’s series will be later.

One of these days, I’m gonna introduce you to Casey and Vo’s oldest daughter. (heh)

What would you recommend, having read my catalog and understanding that those are my kind of stories? David Drake. Doc Smith. Asimov, not so much because he and Clark never include any Setting and most of their females are helpless princesses. I also read a great deal of Chandler and Hammett for voice. Opinion. Snark.

Who should I be reading these days?

9 thoughts on “Progressive Fiction (not what you think)

  1. Phil Kosnett

    Blaze, since you asked, have you read the Expanse novels? That series spans decades, and characters to age. How much they evolve is another question.

    1. Blaze Post author

      According to a lot of folks, the exact spot where Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) stopped was where a LOT of folks stop. Apparently, there is a book that kills the read-through, then people say “if you can get past that, you’ll like it.” I might try book one.

  2. Brian

    Have you read Glynn Stewart’s Duchy of Terra series?

    Marks against it:
    – the heroine may be a Mary Sue, depending on where you draw the line.
    – even the “starfish” aliens are relatable. They’re weird, but not any weirder than some actual human cultures have been.

    Marks for:
    – Aliens invade the Earth and win.
    – Heroine heads out to privateer and DOESN’T destroy the conquering empire.
    – Heroine of the first few books is promoted out of starship command. She’s still around, but she’s not commanding individual ships in combat or even fleet engagements and instead is doing diplomatic work.

    If you get an itch for fantasy, I highly recommend Buehlman’s Blacktongue Thief.

    1. Blaze Post author

      never heard of, but Esko suggested the Serrano books and I have a sample. Which should I attack first?

      1. Dorn Hetzel

        I’d say if shorter is more approachable, I’d start with Vatta’s War. I can loan them to you if you don’t have them.

  3. larry Vaughn

    David Weber – Honor Harrington Series
    Eric Thompson Siobhan Nunmoore Series
    Glyn Stewart – Duchy of Terra Series, Peacekeepers Of Sol

    If you like one or more of these, have others to share also

    1. Blaze Post author

      have read the first half or so of Harrington. Got Duchy of Terra on sample. Will grab Thompson. Thx

  4. Henry

    I didn’t see the Foreigner series by CJ Cherryh mentioned. Like most of Cherryh’s work, it’s a clash-of-cultures premise, with aliens and humans learning to deal with each other.

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