Reviews & Why Authors Hate Them
Another great The First Heretic review, this time from Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, which is a site I like a whole bunch.
But – and here’s the thing – I’m starting to see why all the veterans tell me to ignore reviews, and not let them linger in my brainjunk, whether they’re good, bad, sucky or rad. People take different things from novels, the same way they look for different things, notice different things, and enjoy different things. And as a natural response to that, they perceive you (and your work) in ways that might seem surprising when you hear about them.
Previously, pretty much every review I’ve read of my work, and checking out the bunches of feedback from several huge forums, people say the best aspects of my work are pretty much always the way I write and develop characters, and how immersive that makes my stuff. (I think an honourable mention goes towards my space battles, but I digress.) One of the things that I seem to get lauded for, is that my work tends to be deeper and more nuanced than a lot of other sci-fi and/or 40k writing. True or not, it’s something I see a lot of. I don’t say I believe it, or that it’s ironclad truth. But I get a lot of it.
Then, this week, I’ve come across two opinions for the first time ever, that have made me stop and think: “…wait, what?”
The first was an off-hand reference to a reviewer being pleasantly surprised by The First Heretic, because they’d previously been unsure if I could pull off a “thinker’s story”. The second is right here, permeated all through the GFB review, but exemplified by this quote: “What it isn’t though is the ideal venue to let loose with the guns and attitude in the way that Dembski-Bowden likes to do best.”
Now, to me, that doesn’t sound like me at all. I don’t like to do that. In fact, I do my level best to avoid fighting in my novels, because too much of it seems shallow and childish, and because if a character throws down in any movie or novel, I get bored to Hell unless they’re doing it for a good reason. I am literally unable to watch Blade ever again. I think it’s the worst film ever made. I try to stick with a simple rule in my writing: if there’s a fight, it needs to either develop a character; highlight something about their personality or backstory to the reader; or forward the plot in some other way beyond bloodshed and casualties – preferably a subtle way, but that’s not always realistic or possible. And, by and large, practically all the feedback I’ve had has been that I do it well.
But this was the first time I’ve ever seen people say that they expected something else from me, or that they perceived my work in such a way that I can’t quite wrap my squishy skull-matter around.
Now, bullshit aside, I regard The First Heretic as the best thing I’ve written yet. It stormed around the publisher’s office, snapping up praise, and one of the BL editors said it was one of the 10 best books Black Library have ever released. While I’m slowly facing up to the fact my newness will harm any chances of keeping the Horus Heresy NYT Bestseller chain going (and pre-sales like Games Day don’t count towards that total, so…), I’m still dead certain the novel will please pretty much everyone that gets their paws on it. It’s especially killer in the sense it sets up future Word Bearer HH novels with deliciously obvious intent. I sort of, kinda, maybe, perhaps, sorta imagine it a little like Horus Rising, as the first of a ‘separate’ trilogy. But that’s just my brain rattling the bars, not an actual plan. At some point, it’ll have a sequel. Calth awaits, after all. That much is clear come the end of the novel.
Graeme’s an insightful guy, and certainly not wrong in some things he says. There were constraints because of lore and continuity, and not all of them were helpful. Sometimes, you need to take a long look at this stuff, and realise that it’s based on occasional paragraphs written 25 years ago, not by professional writers, but by gamers who basically had no idea of what the future held in terms of global recognition. And with all due respect, dancing to those tunes isn’t always easy. But then, I’d level the “slightly constrained” marker at every Horus Heresy novel so far, excepting Legion. It’s certainly nothing specific to The First Heretic, and I doubt it shows any more than, say, Horus Rising, False Gods, A Thousand Sons, or Fulgrim. Of course, drawing attention to it means people will notice it, but whatever. I have no fears regarding that book, which is an interesting first for me.
But it’s acutely uncomfortable to read a review where someone sees you in a certain way that’s nothing like how you see yourself, or how people usually talk about you. This, in part, is why authors use pseudonyms when writing in other genres – to break the stigma of what they’ve done before. And this is the first time I’ve seriously given thought to the fact I may end up doing that with my original fiction when it’s published in a few years. Will it be a necessary reset to cleanse the palette of former opinion? Even extremely positive opinion? Man, I fucking hate that thought. But people do it all the time.
I don’t post this with a plea for support or to start arguments over opinions. I post it because I like to be honest, I like to chronicle major shit that happens, and all of that, dear mortals, is what’s spinning around my head on this particular day.
The curious moments of being a new novelist.
The next post I make will either be the trailer for the novel, or 5 Reasons I Hate Star Trek. I have pictures for that one, mostly of aliens with faces like battered vaginas.