The Fastidious Reader – Is An Author Responsible For His Plot?

silosagaI had a strange experience recently as I finished Dust, the last of Hugh Howey’s Silo trilogy. I was about 60% of the way through the book when I realized that there was absolutely no way the book could end that would leave me happy or satisfied. Unsurprisingly, I finished the book and one of the two endings I imagined came about and I found myself very unsatisfied. After the conclusion of the book, I spent some time and starting tracing the plot back to the point of no return that lead to this ending, looking for what I would have changed to make it a “better” book. It took some time, but I eventually realized that the point of no return was the first page of the trilogy, this was a story that had been barrelling towards this page from the start. My first gut reaction was to write off the series as not good to me personally, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that I had some expectations that were likely wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the plot of Silo mechanically. The pieces are all nicely woven together, the plot follows the world’s logic, and the story accomplishes what I believe Howey set out to do; I just didn’t like it. It took some time for me to separate it out, but I realize that Wool is a good book that I probably shouldn’t have read, as I was doomed to dislike it from the start through no fault of the author.

When reviewing novels, I hold the author responsible for a variety of different things and I subtract points for failing to follow through in a number of areas. These things boil down to a combination of mechanical writing skill, creating convincing immersive stories, establishing a clear logic and order to the book’s world, and following the established logic. If an author fails to explain the setting they are in, or has characters that do not feel real, or has plot twists that make absolutely no sense within the world, I will deduct points. However, a reader should never fault a book because the author’s story doesn’t match their taste or expectations. An example of this can clearly be seen in the reaction to the sequels to the popular Blood Song, by Anthony Ryan. I feel that the second and third books in The Raven’s Shadow are perfectly respectable books in their own right, however fans of Blood Song tend to decry the sequels as they did not match their expectations and Ryan decided to take his series in a different direction. Does that make the books bad? Well many fans reading the sequels didn’t enjoy it, so it objectively could be said that they were bad. On the other hand, if readers managed their expectations (not that the book was good, but how the book was going to go) they might find they enjoy a lot more of the books they read.

One of the editors for this blog is really good at separating his expectations for a novel from the overall quality of a book. He recently read The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, and came back to the rest of the editors with a surprising opinion; he didn’t like it. When asked to expand on his feelings, he explained that “while he would recommend the book to anyone who asked, he just didn’t like certain aspects, characters, and places. Although the book was incredibly well written, it just wasn’t for him and his opinion could be safely ignored, though he likely would not be reading on as he wasn’t having fun”. In the end I find that he has some wisdom I could have used. While I really didn’t like Wool, Dust, or Shift by Hugh Howey, I can’t in good conscience punish an author for simply telling the story he wanted. I don’t like the Silo trilogy, but it is excellently written so maybe you will.

3 thoughts on “The Fastidious Reader – Is An Author Responsible For His Plot?

  1. Ive pressed this I hope you don’t mind but I could not have worded it better myself, many times I have read a bad review and felt this argument brew up inside me. Just because you don’t like it does not make it bad writing and should not take away the endless, hours, weeks, months and sometimes years the effort the author has put into their work. Don’t get me wrong sometimes a book is just not great and the author will probably be the first to notice this. I also think if you read a lot such as myself it’s not easy to be impressed or surprised as you say the mechanics of books have to have a similar base, types of characters, events which cannot be easy to come up with something that has never been touched on before. I also totally agree with the harsh criticism of Raven’s Shadow, I was the first to hate the difference between the narrative of Blood Song to Tower Lord, but we need to remember Blood Song was a kindle release to begin with before publication, maybe AR was not expecting to have such a huge response and maybe he felt it was impossible to continue in the same way as Blood Song, Rothfuss does it well in Wise Man’s Fear but he must himself be struggling with the transition of Day 3 and possibly that transition of narrative when the story is caught up. Furthermore I later decided my criticism of Tower Lord were totally unfair and that with a fresh outlook on Queen of Fire I was blown away. Anyway great post!!

  2. I had the same kind of experience with “Wool”, that ended up in the DNF list: not a bad book, I agree with you, but still – from my personal point of view – not the kind of book I like. An interesting premise might fail if I’m unable to feel any attachment to the characters, and that’s what happened to me. Sometimes even a highly-praised book is not for everyone….

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