seawasp (seawasp) wrote,

Complexity, Alienness, Popularity: Choose Any Two?

Over on rec.arts.sf.written, Matt Hughes posted a "here's a great and undeservedly overlooked author you should check out" thread for the author Cecelia Holland. One of his comments was that he was "gobsmacked" to discover that she wasn't selling well, something which struck me as odd because "gobsmacked" generally means "incredibly surprised, stunned". It later emerged that Matt felt it would have been impolite to say "outraged" which more accurately reflected his mental state.

It does strike me that if you accurately depict alien mindstates and complex stories simultaneously that you are very likely to NOT be popular, because it's simply going to take a lot more work to read and understand your story, and the "mass market" is not USUALLY into reading that requires a lot of effort. Offhand, I can only think of one book I've read that I would say was both VERY popular and yet also complex AND focused pretty much entirely on an alien culture: Shogun, by Clavell. Tony Hillerman's Navajo mysteries often showcased alien attitudes of the Navajo, but they had a lot of 20th-century context to reflect from and on, and weren't tremendously complex stories.

In Grand Central Arena, I'm writing about a culture that's post-scarcity for the most part, that's 300 years in the future, and if I were trying to model the culture accurately I suspect I COULDN'T do it, and if I did, it'd be almost impossible to read. There would be more difference in basic cultural assumptions and mores in that setting than there would be between modern-day USA and ancient Rome. And I'd NEVER actually get to the story I want to tell. So I end up writing slightly different modern-day people with a few systematic quirks that I see as representative of the era and society.

This leaves me wondering how many such choices have to be made for every book that's written...
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