Friday, May 13, 2016

Some sort of a rambling review type thing, 5/13/2016

So. A week or so ago I read Silence, by Mercedes Lackey and Cody Martin. It purported to be part of the SERRAted Edge series of novels, which is why I picked it up in the first place. Back in the early '90s, Lackey and some of her friends (Larry Dixon, Mark Shepherd, Holly Lisle and others) put together a set of books based on the premise that a) elves were real; b) they really really liked stock car racing (because it allowed them to engage in the sort of challenges they had during the knights and horses period); and c) the "good" elves worked to rescue and protect exploited and abused children. SERRA was the stock car racing league the elves were involved with, and the SERRAted Edge was a reference to the violence against children and childhood being perpetuated by a variety of abusers. The books were fun, with action and adventure and a decent dose of message. I liked them, and I liked many of the characters which existed in the setting, particularly the mage Tannim.

However, this book is only very tangentially related to the series. It has elves, one of whom rides a motorbike (which is actually an elven steed which looks like a motorbike, which is a neat concept). There is no stock car racing (although the elf in question mentions something about other elves and stock cars), and the child abuse is very subtle - the principle character has an alcoholic mother who plays almost no role in the book at all, and a step mother who has essentially kicked her out to live with the alcoholic mother. Child abuse is not a significant plot element in the way that it was in the original series, is what I'm trying to say. As such, it was a pretty good urban fantasy novel, with adventure, action, some good elves and some bad elves, and a wizard, and the teenagers come together to kick the butts of the bad elves, yay! But it wasn't, really, a SERRAted Edge novel, and by putting the series name on the cover, I feel that both this AND the series have been diminished.

Also, there is this - the original SERRAted Edge books were published in (as I said) the early '90s, and nothing in the series had been published since. Is this an attempt to revive the series? Is this a case of a publisher using Ms. Lackey's more famous name to boost Cody Martin's publication - did Martin come into Baen with a book about teens fighting bad elves, and someone said "hey, we've got a moribund series about elves and kids and fighting - can we shoehorn this into that?" Because if that ISN'T what this is, it sure feels like it. Without the SERRAted Edge tag on the cover, I don't think the comparison would even come up - this is a fine, if somewhat formulaic, urban fantasy. I am, thus, saddened for Martin, and Lackey, and the series.

I was going to suggest, as an alternative to this, Deborah Blake's Baba Yaga series* - there is a theme of rescuing abused, lost, and abandoned children in her work - but I think, perhaps, that is unfair. There is nothing wrong with Silence, realistically - it doesn't claim, internally, to be about rescuing children - and I'm not really doing a "read This, not That!" thing here.

I did want to also muse a little on the nature of the publishing industry. A couple of weeks ago, I spent the weekend with an old college friend and her husband, both Lackey fans (also, my wife was there, also a Lackey fan). We came to a (sad) consensus that the books published under Lackey's name are not as good as they once were - almost as if she were contributing a broad idea and some notes, but that someone else was writing the bulk of the book. Which, you know, there's a model for that in Renaissance art - grand master painters contributed to and took credit for the works of their apprentices - but, perhaps, isn't a good model for publishing in the 21st century? I mean, it's a difficult industry to break into at the best of times, and using newer writers to prop up older authors is a disservice to everyone involved - older authors, newer authors, and the readers. If that's what's happening - I have (and don't really want) any hard evidence of that happening. Lackey has been a collaborationist from long and long, so the fact that her book covers share billing with another, or even multiple authors is not indicative of anything nefarious. So, perhaps, disregard this entire paragraph as the ramblings of someone who doesn't know as much as he thinks he does (it wouldn't be the first time I've been wrong...)