Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fan anguish

If you haven't read the review for Anne Bishop's upcoming book, Twilight's Dawn, over at Dear Author, you might want to, if only for the comments that come after. I highly recommend reading the review, spoilers and all, to anyone who's a fan of Bishop's Black Jewels books.

The entire thing makes me think about authors, and what readers expect from them. In this case, readers did not expect that Bishop would do any of these things with and to her characters, even though all or most of it is plausible. Keep in mind, the book doesn't even come out until March, so all those anguished comments are not from readers who have actually read the book (in particular, the "series killer" novella), but from people who have read the review. Just the review, and this is how intense fan reaction is.

On the one hand, this intensity of reaction should be gratifying to Bishop, to any author. It means that she created characters her fans can empathize with so much that they (we, since I'm one of them) actually grieve for them. On the other hand, because fans care for those characters so much, they have expectations for them, and those expectations don't gel with where Bishop has decided to take them. There has been some speculation that maybe Bishop hates her Black Jewels world and characters - it has to be frustrating for her that, as far as I'm aware, no characters or world she's ever written since has been nearly as popular as her Black Jewels world and characters. When people talk about what they dislike about her other books, they invariably bring up what they liked about the Black Jewels books. What she's done in her novella could be her attempt to move past the series once and for all.

I've been trying to think of other things to compare this fan reaction to, and the only thing that comes to mind is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's attempt to kill off Sherlock Holmes. Does there come a point when an author's characters are considered to belong to the fans, rather than the author? An author can do what he or she wants to the characters, and fans don't have to like it...but should an author do something like this in the first place? It's hard for me to decide what the answer should be. Really, an author can do whatever he or she wants. The author is the one doing the writing. However, angering one's fanbase can be a very risky move, career-wise - there are even readers commenting on the review who are saying they may have to get rid of their original Black Jewels books, because they can't look at them the same way. If those fans are like me, they keep reading Bishop, even if they haven't fallen in love with any of her recent books, because of their love for the original Black Jewels trilogy and its characters. Will those fans ever want to read any of her books again?

From the fan side of things, it looks like people would have been ok if Bishop had never...wrapped things up in such a final way. I actually thought Bishop's trilogy ended in a fairly satisfying way, and all the other books that came after it were icing on the cake - they accomplished the same thing for me that reading fan fiction does, satisfying my taste for something new with the characters without interfering with my love for the original books.

I do think that the direction Bishop has taken her characters in is amazingly gutsy. Unfortunately, the way it's being executed feels less like she's being gutsy and trying to stretch herself as an author and more like she's saying a giant "I hate you" to her characters (and perhaps to fans who mainly only love her original Black Jewels books?). True, I'm one of those who hasn't read the novella yet, so all I have on which to base my opinion is the review. The review still tells me a lot. It tells me Bishop didn't think there would be a problem with killing off several major characters, ending a romance that spanned decades (millennia, if you count the amount of time Daemon had spent waiting), and starting up a new one (with a character who is plausible as a romantic interest, but an outrageous choice to many fans) that results in child in the space of a novella.

I think I would have been fine (well, upset, but basically fine) if Bishop had done all these things in a novel, giving these major events and changes the attention they deserve. I don't see how all of these things could be done well, in a way that would make anyone happy, in just a novella. I'm sure there are authors who would sneer at what I'm about to write, but I feel like, if an author is going to do something that he or she knows will upset fans, at the very least it should be done well and in a way that shows there is at least some respect for fan feelings. I'm not really getting that from this.

Well, that's pretty much it from me. After posting several comments on the Dear Author review, I decided a full blog post was in order. I'm pretty sure I'll be reading Twilight's Dawn (after first reading anything else set in the world I haven't yet read). It might be a mistake, but I'd like to read it all for myself. I'm also pretty sure nothing I read will cause me to hate the original trilogy - I'll just convince myself that Twilight's Dawn is really just fan fiction, and nothing in it is to be taken as canon.

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