Friday, May 25, 2007

Riding On Their Fathers' Coat Tails

In an age where the mid-list is shrinking and authors have a harder and harder time getting published, it is amazing to see the hoopla and bally-hoo surrounding some works of fiction. Granted, we all know that having a parent with multiple bestsellers is pretty much a guarantor of your getting published, however I cannot help but wonder if the print and advertising budgets for these emergent authors isn't hurting the publishing industry. After all, having a parent who is a great writer is no indicator that the child is going to be a great writer; creativity is not solely down to genetic chance. Let's take a look at several examples of recent books that would probably not have seen the light of day had it not been for famous forebears.

First let us look at the son of Stephen King. Joe Hill is a great writer who would likely be published without his ties to the master of modern horror. Heart Shaped Box, which we will be discussing this evening at the Ramsey Borders, is a great book that is a lot of fun for any fan of Peter Straub's Ghost Story, and is an excellent suspenseful debut novel. All this said, if the book were by anyone else, I somehow doubt that we would see 25 or 30 copies on the shelf in the horror section of the book store. In this case, though, it can be forgiven. Joe Hill seems to take great pains not to remind everyone of who his dad is, and I count that in his favor.

Our next example is that of Brian Herbert. With the last (they promise) book of the Dune universe created by his father due out later this year, we can look forward to an end of almost a decade of prequels and sequels to his father's work. Brian Herbert was, and is, a solid writer with a great mind, and his independent works are absolutely phenomenal. Unfortunately, his real rise to fame has been in expanding the universe that his father created using a combination of his father's notes and his own rememberances of things that they had discussed. While I love the Butlerian Jihadand the stories of the machine wars, I was not too pleased with the House Atreides/Harkonnen/Corrino books. Hunters of Dune is fantastic, and I eagerly await the last chapter. Sadly, though, I have the feeling that Brian Herbert will be relegated back to the midlist once the Dune books are done.

My last example is Christopher 'Let me see if I can wring a few more sheckles out of my dead father' Tolkien. Christopher Tolkien is a hack with little or no talent, who hoards his father's work like Smaug hoards gold. The Children of Hurin yet another expansion of daddy's Silmarillion hit the shelves earlier this month to much fanfare and acclaim. This is a travesty! The fact that the man did some editing work on a short story and wrote some bits and bobs to tack onto it should not give him room to throw his name on the by-line. The book is probably marvelous (I will be buying my copy this evening), but the fact remains that it is JRR Tolkien's book, not Christopher's. I should also point out that his father had done a number of translations (including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) which we will never get to see because the books are public domain, thus the translations are public domain, and it seems that if Christopher cannot get any money for them, they will never see the light of day (in case you are feeling sorry for him or think that he needs the money, rest assured he doesn't need the money or your sympathy as he is very wealthy).

Anyway, now that I have vented my spleen on the subject of Christopher Tolkien I will sinmply wrap up by saying: Remember, judge the author, not their parents.