I don't like romance novels. I don't even really like romance movies, although I've been known to sob my way through a few of them in my day. I would never judge anyone for enjoying the romance genre, of course, but it's just not my thing. Normally I can avoid romance novels fairly easily throughout the course of my year, but in my yearly stints as an ABNA judge (2010, 2011, and - FSM willing - 2012), I almost always have a romance novel or two to judge and it's quite distressing for me. I usually end up writing something completely unhelpful and panicky like, I don't really like Romance as a genre, but this seems really well written in general and probably lots of Romance-genre enjoyers would, ah, enjoy this, so...um...4 1/2 stars! Good luck! Then I go and angst to Husband for hours because how can I write helpful advice and assign a useful rating to a genre that I intrinsically don't like? How can I meaningfully judge the "creativity" of a piece that belongs to a genre that - to me - is composed of the same plot over and over and over again?
And the thing is, I realize that this point of view is unfair and biased and completely untrue. I realize it because other people - people I respect - like romance as a genre just fine and see a great deal of complexity among the various offerings out there. In fact, some of these people even feel the same way I do about romance, only about other genres that I happen to like! Fantasy movies and novels, for instance, all seem largely ripped from The Chronicles of Narnia to them; and, really, isn't all Science Fiction basically either Star Trek, Star Wars, or something confusing and impenetrable like 2001: A Space Odyssey? Well, not to me, it's not, but it's fair to say that perhaps there's some variance and subtlety within the romance genre that I'm just not picking up for whatever reason.
I also recognize that my all-romance-novels-are-the-same-novel criticism is inherently hypocritical for me to grouse about because I have for many years enjoyed as a guilty pleasure the "Deathlands" series, penned by a number of authors, but generally accredited to nom de plume "James Axler".
"Deathlands" is basically "Mad Max" in literary form, only repeated over a series that is almost 100 novels long at this point. Each book is essentially the same, to the point that the reader almost starts to delight in the similarity of them all - it's like how they tell you in school that sonnets are the bomb because you can do just about anything with them, but in an incredibly rigid format. A small group of Chaotic Good badasses teleport into a new area of post-war America (except in the usually-excretable ones where they teleport to Russia! Japan! Outer Space!), narrowly escape from their overrun-by-mutated-animals teleporting base, ride into the local town to meet a lot of cardboard cut-out stereotypes (New Englanders hunt whales! American Indians wear deerskin and beads! Louisianans are inbred yokels!), encounter a phenomenally evil local boss dude, and then "fix" everything by shooting up the evil local boss dude with lots and lots of bullets.
Along the way, there will be a lot of macho posturing, gun porn, torture porn, threats of rape (sometimes acted upon, but usually not past the first 20-odd books, probably because it was squicking out the fanbase, plus the established female characters in the Scooby Gang were at that point too beloved of the fanbase to keep having to deal with that sort of thing), and an attempt at "moral ambiguity" that is so earnest and strained that it's quite amusing to watch. The "moral ambiguity" comes from the fact that the heroes rarely make anything better, and the post-shooting-up-of-the-local-boss-dude town is probably just as bad or worse off than if the heroes had never rolled into town at all - plus, the heroes are unnecessarily antagonistic to everyone. For me, that's less "moral ambiguity" and more "being a hilariously stupid jerk-off", and I can never quite decide how much the series authors are trying to satire the genre.
As much as I love the books in a very ironic manner, I've never gotten past the 30s in the series, largely because I end up having to come up for air at some point and read something else and by time I return to the series, I've completely forgotten what happened in the last ten books on account of them all being so darn generic, and I resolve to start over at the beginning rather than continue without a clear idea of what's happened recently (because a huge portion of the ironic fun is noting the massive characterization changes from book to book), and thus do I get stuck in a permanent loop between the crappy prequel novel and that one in the 30s where Ryan gets captured by vampires.
In spite of these problems, or perhaps because of them, the series has become sort of a holy grail to me: every time I consider taking an extended vacation or possibly a nice, relaxing surgery, I think, and then I will sit down and read all the Deathlands books. But! But! Lugging around the paper copies of a crappy 100-book series is enough to strain the patience of even the most loving husband, and it doesn't help that I bought most of my copies at a used college book store about a decade ago and time has not been kind to them. I'd like to change over my entire series to eBook format, but the publisher has rather bafflingly chosen to only release eBook versions of the series going forward which means that if you want to start reading the series on your Nook at installation #84, you can, but if you want all the backstory that has come before, then you get to suck on an egg and die, apparently.
I would love, love, love to do the Deathlands series in a series of deconstruction posts - if I exercised restraint and kept to one post per book, that would still give us a delicious 100-post series of satire, snark, and beautiful sardonic wit. But I need your help to help me convince the publisher that publishing a 100-book series in half-paperback / half-eBook format both shows a lack of commitment to the series and is incredibly silly. Now, I'm not going to ask you guys to click "poke the publisher" buttons for every one of the ~60 books missing in the series (how cruel would that be for you guys?), but I figure if we can get the publisher to re-format Book #1, then maybe some clever VP will suggest bridging the gap between the other books in the series.
The Amazon.com link for the first Deathlands book is here.
The Barnes & Noble listing of the same is here.
Bonus points will be awarded for contacting publisher Harlequin directly to politely point out that their non-romance series about guns-and-the-manly-men-who-love-them deserves their all star eBook efforts. Readers may also consider contacting this blog here, assuming it's a legitimate voice for Gold Eagle Books, and assuming that they may be more accessible and friendly than the corporate machine at Harlequin.
Remember: Readers who post in the comments that they've poked the publisher via any or all of these links will be mentioned in a subsequent "Poke the Publisher" entry, which is at least as valuable as becoming a sparkly vampire doomed to wander the halls of high school for eternity.
Also remember: By poking the publisher, you are not indicating that YOU are waiting to buy this book in eBook format, but rather that your dear friend Ana is waiting to buy this book in eBook format to review, dissect, deconstruct, and otherwise desecrate for your reading pleasure. And buy it I shall, just as soon as it comes available in the U.S. of A., presuming, of course, that the nuclear holocaust hasn't wiped us all out by then.
Credit for last week's poke-the-publisher must go to C. Merced, Matt Smyczynski, J.D. Montague, Gela Delgado, leianajade, and Count Vardulon for helping fight the good fight to bring Scott Pilgrim to the hearts and minds of the next generation of dedicated gamers. It should be obvious to anyone with half a brain that all these good folks are so amazingly awesome that they reach the kill screen in every game they play because even the best programmer on earth isn't prepared for this level of concentrated cool. Way to go, guys!
Update: It has been pointed out to me by the clever people at MobileRead that a major problem with a long-running "abandoned" book series like Deathlands is that the original author is deceased and probably Harlequin doesn't own the publishing rights anymore and would have to renegotiate them in order to publish the back-catalog in e-Book form. I see this as all the more reason to poke the publisher - with the economy the way it is, we definitely need to support an author's surviving relatives. So poke, poke, poke!