For at least several years, I’ve been puzzled by the handful of readers/reviewers who insist I write “the same book” over and over. My first reaction was that they weren’t reading all of what I wrote… but several of these reader reviewers have clearly read much of what I write. So my latest reaction tends to be, “If you find what I write so objectionable in its repetition, why do you keep reading my work and repeating your objections?” If you don’t like it… then don’t read it. I understand that my work doesn’t appeal to everyone. No author’s work does.
But perhaps they feel so strongly that they’re compelled to try to persuade others that my work is “repetitious” or the like? Why? What’s the point? I’ll admit that there are books and series that I feel the same way about… but I don’t spend time and ink trying to make that point to those who love those books and series. If their followers enjoy them, then that’s their pleasure.
This “sameness” criticism has been applied especially to the Recluce Saga, and since several amateur reviewers [who consider themselves superior] continue harping, I thought I’d try to take a more analytical look at the saga and see if I could identify persistent areas of “sameness/repetition.”
One charge is that I always write about young people trying to find their way, yet out of the 16 books in the Recluce Saga, only four deal with protagonists younger than 20 [six, if you count the second book in the case of Lerris and Cerryl], and those young people come from very different backgrounds, ranging from being an orphan to being the son of a ruler. In six of the sixteen books, the protagonists are well-established in their occupations and all over 30. Do they all then go from rags to riches? In only three cases in all the Saga do the protagonists become absolute rulers – Cerryl, Lorn, and Saryn. While Cerryl does move from “nothing” to high wizard, Lorn is the son of the fourth most powerful man in Cyad, and takes two books and much effort to reach the top spot. Saryn begins as number two in Westwind and ends up as number one in Lornth. Creslin starts out as the son of a ruler and ends up as one of five members of the ruling council, in roughly the same place after a great deal of trial and tribulation. Kharl is a prosperous cooper who loses everything and finally manages to become a modestly endowed junior member of the aristocracy. Dorrin comes from a prosperous background, is exiled, fights, and ends up as what might be called an engineering tribune who founded Nylan. Justen begins as an engineering mage and ends up as a druid-influenced gray wizard and far from wealthy. Rahl begins as a scrivener and ends up as the Mage-Guard advisor to the provincial governor. Nylan begins as a ship’s engineer and ends up as a gray mage in Naclos. So… most of them did somewhat better for themselves, if at rather high costs, but not all did.
Well… maybe the books are stylistically similar. Of the sixteen, two were written in the first-person past tense, four in the third-person present tense, and ten in the third-person past tense [which is the POV used in about 90% of all F&SF books]. That doesn’t present an overwhelming “similarity” in approach and actually differs greatly from the average.
Then does this purported sameness lie in the plot or the characters? I’d be the first to admit that there is one definite element of similarity – the main characters all do survive and succeed to some degree, but the degree of their physical success varies considerably. Creslin and Megaera effectively lose their entire families and end up trying to build a land on a desert isle. Lerris ends up with no wealth, and no family except his wife. Lorn becomes emperor, but loses his father and sister, and his remaining sister exiles herself. Justen spends his life as a wandering gray mage. Rahl becomes a high-ranking mage-guard and does marry his love. Kharl loses his wife and children, but eventually gains true love and small estate. Nylan gains nothing, except his wife and son, and loses his daughter. Cerryl gains great power, and will spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder. Maybe I’m missing something, but the only similarity I see is that these characters have paid high prices for their survival and success, and the prices they have paid differ in how and when they were paid.
Heinlein once observed that there were only three plots in fiction – the success story and its opposite, the tragedy; the love story; and the story of the person who learned something. I’ve only written one tragedy [The Forever Hero], and while many of my books incorporate love stories, I will admit that most of my books do center on people who have learned something and who have succeeded to some degree – if generally at a high personal cost.
If some reviewers claim that this is writing the same book again and again, then the same claim could be lodged against 90% of all the books ever written, because every book with a plot will have a basic sameness compared to what came before, and like pretty much every writer, I’m guilty of that sameness.
So what else is new?