Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Reviews 41, Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio - Fan Fiction Styling Has Gone Mainstream

Reviews 41
Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio
Fan Fiction Styling Has Gone Mainstream 

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Today we'll look at a huge, long, novel launching a new series THE SUN EATER Book One, Empire of Silence.

Here it is on Amazon:

You'll probably want the Kindle version because the font in the hardcover is rather small and crammed -- for a reason we'll be discussing here.

So as I was reading this book (all of it; it is a page turner!), I was also involved in editing the second book in a Trilogy in my Sime~Gen Universe, and there's a relevant story in that comparison.

This back-stage story I want to tell you is relevant to spotting trends in Publishing and figuring out their origins.

I have been involved in fanfic since I was in 7th Grade, wrote novels when I was in High School and college (thankfully unpublished), and dove right into Star Trek fandom when I first saw it because friends from Science Fiction fandom (Bjo Trimble among them) were pounding the table about this wonderful TV Series (yes, it was and is wonderful!)

So I wrote the non-fiction book, STAR TREK LIVES!
precisely to introduce the general public (non-science fiction readers who loved Star Trek) to fanfic.

I aimed to rip aside the veil of contempt with which the general public shrouded all science fiction -- "kiddie crap" worthy only of comic derision.

I (and a cast of millions) blew the lid on Star Trek fanfic, and the world has changed.

As evidence that Star Trek had done something on TV that no previous Radio or TV drama had ever done, I footnoted my novel HOUSE OF ZEOR.

House of Zeor was at that time the first novel (but not first story) to be published in the Sime~Gen Series ( Sime/Gen was the logo then, but later changed by the fans to avoid the inaccurate "/" designation).

And it turned out I was correct in pinpointing the unique element in Star Trek's appeal.

I had designed HOUSE OF ZEOR to appeal to the Star Trek fans who most loved the Spock Character, and to touch the same creative nerve that the broadcast TV series touched in them.

And as predicted, many Star Trek fans wrote Sime~Gen fanfic -- at one time there were 5 regular Sime~Gen fanzines being published offset and/or mimeo.

We have most of that fanfic posted for free reading on simegen.com.

My ambition was always to bring those fanfic writers -- and their original "take" on Sime~Gen -- to the wider readership who buy professionally published novels.

And we are doing that right now -- as I'm reading the currently published Hardcovers such as EMPIRE OF SILENCE from DAW books (which also first published several Sime~Gen novels in Mass Market Paperback originals.

So as Wildside picked up the Sime~Gen backlist, and also published the several novels that got swallowed in publishing house collapses later retrieved, we went ahead with our fanfic writers to put out the first anthology of original fan written stories (some from the old fanzines rewritten, and some brand new ideas the writers have had after years of writing Star Trek fanfic).

 Now we are bringing up a masterful trilogy by Mary Lou Mendum, completely rewritten to step onto the main historical TIMELINE of the Universe, presenting the detailed narrative of how certain oddball personalities become positioned to move History forward (quite by haphazard accident, you know) while struggling to do Good For Humanity.


That is THE CLEAR SPRINGS CHRONICLES - Book One is now available, and we were working on Book Two as I read EMPIRE OF SILENCE.

And the writing lesson is all about STYLE.  The fanfic style, targeting an audience of those already steeped in the mythos of a fictional world (like Star Trek, Star Wars, vs. the professional writing style targeting a broad, or gigantic viewership.


Jean Lorrah, who joined Sime~Gen with her first published novel, FIRST CHANNEL (the third published in the series),

...has since been studying screenwriting craft and marketing screenplays (even won an award for it), and has fully internalized the terse, to-the-point, not-one-second of viewer time wasted or distracted with detail, STYLE required to tell a story visually.  We were taught this style by Traditional Publishing's major editors, but visual story telling requires an even higher precision styling.  Reading the SAVE THE CAT! series on screenwriting retrains the story crafting to the broadest of all audiences (the 4-bagger).


To broaden an appeal to a wider audience, ELIMINATE DETAIL, and "BTW" events, and decorative additions (detailed description etc).  Put all that information in the plot.

The more TERSE the style, and the more clean and definitive the scene structure, the broader the potential audience.

SAVE THE CAT! on Amazon

That is true today -- but may not be true 20 years from now (say 2029).

The force moving to this direction of more lazy plotting, more larded on irrelevant detail, is the force that is making audiences for anything SMALLER (e.g. fragmenting the monolothic TV audience which had only 3 TV stations that broadcast only 4 hours a night).

That is STREAMING.  All the different mega-giants in this industry of episodic story-telling (Netflix, Amazon - retailers of fiction) are trying all sorts of different topics, formats and styles that "narrow-cast" or more directly target a sensitive area of a small audience (creating fans).

In STAR TREK LIVES! I called that "the Tailored Effect" which is what made Spock fans love the show and never notice McCoy and Kirk (and Chekov) were equally mysterious and interesting.

Nobody calls it that now, but everyone is using that basic principle -- that the narrower your audience, the more intense their pleasure and resulting "glued to the page" behavior.

In other words, what is "popular" or "Mass Market" must, necessarily eliminate exactly what you most want in your fiction payload.

Science Fiction fans are always "unusual" people -- on the tail of some bell distribution curve.  They may be at the norm in many attributes, but always have some specific attribute that is way off the charts.  Most fans have more imagination than the norm of the bell curve -- are willing to suspend disbelief to read a Romance of a human and an Alien.

To appeal to the FEW, fiction has to be "cheap to make" because it must be made at a profit.  E-publishing, and now Streaming media using digital cameras are RELATIVELY cheap to make. There are still the fixed costs of writing, editing, copyediting, and setting up the manuscript or recording the actors doing the play.

But those costs are coming down, and the means to create such salable items as e-books or YouTube video casts, are within the technological know-how and financial means of huge numbers of people.

Fanzines first arose using spirit duplicators and rapidly converted to mimeo (fans had Gestetner mimeograph machines and stencil cutting type writers in their LIVING ROOMS!!! -- equipment usually then found only in schools or corporate offices were obtained second hand by ordinary people for the hobby of publishing).

So, now, the means to professional produce and distribute (even publicize) fanfic are available to most people -- all you need to add is talent, skill, and will power.

Professional business structures (Traditional Publishers of books, Hollywood Studios), for-profit purveyors of expensively produced stories, are learning that there is profit to be made serving tiny markets but serving them well.

That lesson was the major point in STAR TREK LIVES!  People with unusual taste in fiction are profitable.

One of Gene Roddenberry's major contributions to TV Science Fiction was the art of containing costs.  He did a lot with very little money (yeah, and today that really shows, but on B&W small screen TV's it didn't show so much.)

Now the genie is out of the bottle.  Tiny markets are being well served with stories in styles that please the taste of those tiny markets immensely (but might jar the nerves of many other markets).

To learn STYLE, a writer must read lots and lots of books they really dislike.  It's the job.  The more you dislike a book, the more you can learn to make your writing into something you will like - even love - 40 years later.

What Jean Lorrah did to Mary Lou Mendum's second draft of Mary Lou's Fanfic series which we published in an offset press run of a fanzine (about 1,000 copies) has not been done to EMPIRE OF SILENCE, Christopher Ruocchio's THE SUN EATER Book One.

Jean is broadening the potential audience by sharpening the craftsmanship (cut-cut-cut -- add back show don't tell in different places -- rearrange information -- rephrase more tersely).  In the process, material cut from the fanzine version will be spun off into more stories.

That's what fanfic does best -- compress whole novel series into a few paragraphs and call it a scene in a larger story.  That is, fanfic gives readers who know the Universe thoroughly a whole new perspective on what they think they know.

Star Trek fanfic gave readers a reason to view the shows again (and again) and go to the movies several times.  Read a fanfic, go watch again and it's a totally different story you are seeing.

But to achieve this effect, fanfic lards in vast amounts of irrelevant detail, dwelling and dwelling on ideas, decoration, "depth" of characterization at the expense of plot movement.

Frankly, I like fanfic better than I like most professional fiction.

However, we now have a new audience, with new writers speaking to them about the problems of this new (tech based) world we now live in.

Christopher Ruocchio is one such writer who has plunged into creating a Science Fiction series, The Sun Eater, around a "colorful" Character (who might star in most Historical Romances!).

And to reach and grab this younger audience into his created world, he has not relied on the structures common in Gaming (which tends to emphasize plot, and opposing forces, at expense of Character Motivation).  He has instead painted his world with excessive detail.

is written as if it were fanfic in a Universe you should know.

Ruocchio uses the Historical Fiction technique of a Main Character, who was the key player in changing the course of galactic history, reminiscing about his early life and how he came to be that key player.

It is the presentation mode made famous in some Arthurian legend novels, and many very early novels in that legend.  It goes back deep into the roots of human storytelling.

This is the kickoff novel creating a "world" -- as House of Zeor introduced Sime~Gen to the readers who had missed the short story in WORLDS OF IF Magazine.

But where House of Zeor is about 75,000 words, Empire of Silence is about 269,360 words and that doesn't include the appended glossary.

House of Zeor presents a whole new "language" based on perceptions that the reader does not have -- yet does not append a glossary.

In my estimation, about 25,000 words could have been cut from Empire of Silence without in any way impairing the visualization of this new galactic empire or the presentation of its historic movement.

Those 25,000 extra words are the reason the font in the hardcover is so small.  Books can be produced only in certain page-counts.  It is the job of the "book designer" to cram all the extra words into a page layout that comes out to be the exact number of pages in an integral number of "folios."  A folio is the folded over unit you can see by looking down onto the top of a book. Printing machines can make only certain sizes of these folded over units - all the books from a particular imprint run through that same machine. So the book has to be expanded or contracted to fit the machines that print it. This is the reason some books have blank pages at the back.  Think about that as you polish your final draft. The age of your target readership determines the optimum size print.

In doing such a line-edit cut, the Characterizations (and a nice Romance that is just skipped over in narrative), and the motivations as well as political concepts could have been brought to the surface in clean, unequivocal terms so that fanfic writers might pick it up and embroider on it.

Cutting, when done with deliberate craft to a specific point, can improve the art as well as broaden the potential audience which would revel in the romp of imagination.

"Deliberate craft" is what Jean Lorrah has mastered in screenwriting exercises.  You will be able to see the results when the entire CLEAR SPRINGS TRILOGY is published.  We are keeping the 3 Den & Rital stories online for comparison.




Mary Lou added the science for improving selyn battery technology to enable heavier than air flight to her previous fanfic plot-line of "launch a Sime Center out-Territory."

At some point, we might post the intermediate draft so you can see how Jean and I cut, polished, refocused, and cut-cut-cut, to make these novels both enjoyable (as the original fanfic) and conforming to professionally published Mass Market standards.

So, by reading this novel, EMPIRE OF SILENCE (which you will enjoy and will probably want the sequels), and by comparing it to Mary Lou Mendum's fanfic on simegen.com, and to the professionally published Clear Spring's Trilogy, you can (painlessly) gain a grasp of how fanfic STYLING has become DAW Hardcover Mainstream traditional publishing acceptable.

Once you can draw the line connecting all 3 "dots" (1970's Science Fiction Hardcover, 1990's fanfic, 2020's Hardcover/Streaming) , you can make a prediction of your own about how 2040's Science Fiction STYLING will blend Mass Market with Fanfic Styles.

Write the next STAR TREK LIVES!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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