The laziness of the long-established writer

This week I read some Robert Heinlein for the first (and undoubtedly the last) time. I had bought The Number of the Beast for OneMonkey about 9 nine years ago, largely for the Iron Maiden reference (a shared love of physics and Iron Maiden being what brought us together in the first place), and I knew OneMonkey hadn’t been keen on it, which is why I’d never got round to it myself. This illustrates the importance of reading reviews; there’s no review of this book on SFReader, and I’m not about to write one as I only read half an hour’s worth (and I only got that far because I had nothing else to read that lunchtime at work). However, if I’d read Dave Langford’s scathing review I could have saved myself even that brief pain.

I’ve commented before on the ability of well-known authors to get poor quality books published, but this one took the biscuit. Having never read anything else by Heinlein I don’t know what his usual style is (and maybe I’m missing some great classic sci-fi, but this has put me off him completely) but this novel seemed juvenile and read like the first draft of a silly story designed purely to entertain friends and family, full of laborious in-jokes and references that are lost on the casual reader. That kind of writing alienates new readers and smacks of arrogance: I’m already popular enough, I don’t need you.I’m never sure whether the publisher is cashing in, knowing that there’s enough of a fanbase that any old rubbish with the author’s name attached will sell, or whether it’s a fear of upsetting a star author by suggesting their latest attempt needs a little work.

Maybe this is a reminder that we should support authors who are less well known or just starting out. Buying, reviewing, or mentioning in a blog one book by a largely unknown author will make more of a difference to them than not buying, reviewing or mentioning in a blog one book by an established author. Not quite unknown, but probably less of a Name than Heinlein, I read the first chapter of a Jasper Fforde novel over lunch, and it looks promising (probably one for the Robert Rankin and/or Malcolm Pryce followers).

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