Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thing's I've Noticed #4: Genre books only work if they play fair

So two months back I purchased a copy of Scott Smith's The Ruins and really hated it. At first I couldn't understand why, the critics liked it, lots of people bought it, heck, they even made a movie out of it, but something about it rubbed me the wrong way. It is huge in page count, but that wasn't it. No the problem with the book can be stated in three words:

"The Ruins" cheats.

You see, its villain (a sentient plant by the way) is internally inconsistent. Here's what I mean (I have to give some spoilers to make my point):

In the beginning
of the book, we are shown the villain is a man-eating plant. (Pictured to the left) Okay, I'll buy that.

Next we are shown that it can mimic sounds (it pretends to be a cell phone) to attract it's victims, so its a man-eating, sound-making plant, weird, but I'm reading a horror, what can I expect.

Then we are shown that it can mimic people's voices and it uses this ability to taunt its victims with stuff that other people have said in its presence, and it takes those sayings out of context so that the victim will become upset... Right, so it's a man-eating, sound-making, perfectly mimicking plant, which understands context and psychology. This is getting a little dodgy - and it's been done before.

But wait - this plant (located in Mexico by the way) actually calls a German man a Nazi at one point, taking the original phrase made by another victim both out of context and somehow understanding that this would be very upsetting, so it's a man-eating, context understanding, perfectly mimicing plant with a knowlege of world history of the last 50 years. (Pictured to the right)

This is when I threw the book across the room.

Look, I'm a University student - there are books I HAVE to read, so when I'm reading a book for pleasure, it has to be worth my time.

My opinion is this; Horror fiction, and by extension all genre fiction has to do one thing to keep the fans happy - be consistent. That's pretty much it, I mean, If the cover has a demon, robot, or unicorn your average genre fan will happily pick it up and give it a try, after all we like demons, and robots, and unicorns. Tell us your book is about something we like and we'll give it a shot.

But our willingness to accept these monsters or aliens or whatever basically ends there - Genre readers give the author all of our suspension of disbelief right at the premise. To keep the fans happy, the story had better follow its own rules, and with genre fiction you really have to tell us the rules in the first chapter if you want to keep us as fans. Sure you can add in plot elements later, but even if you add a massive twist, it has to have played fair or it won't be any good.

If I pick up a book about vampires - because I like vampires - and later on in the book you tell us that vampires stay out of the sunlight because they frickin shine - I will be pissed.

I love fantasy, horror and SF, but you can always tell the good books from the bad, because the good books play fair.

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