Monday, April 30, 2012

Writers with range

It occurred to me that practically all commercially successful writers I can think of, have a quite limited range. When you pick up one of their books, you can be pretty sure of the style, the kinds of characters, the kinds of situations and problems occurring, and so on.

One of the few exceptions which occur to me is Iain Banks. Even just the fact that he's successful both as an science fiction (and fantasy?) writer and a "mainstream" writer is very rare. But also within those, he writes very different types of books.

Can you think of some examples of writers with wide range? I'm particularly interested in such writers as were successful early enough to benefit themselves, since it is obvious that the market asserts great pressure. The great bulk of readers have quite limited taste, and if a writer were to suddenly change his style or area radically, he might lose the bulk of the followers he has accumulated over the years. (Which is surely the reason why Iain Banks write as "Iain M. Banks" when writing SF.)

But don't shy back from mentioning less bankable writers, if their books are interesting.

By the way, this has caused me to view the life of a writer in a somewhat different light, with less desire. To be pressured to write book after book after book with the same detective in the same trenchcoat, trading sarcastic blows with the same chief of police and the same journalist... sigh.

Oh, another versatile writer occurs to me: Tim Powers. Though he only writes a book every three-five years or so, so he's probably not exactly raking it in. (Albeit he told me he earned a neat sum on the rights for On Stranger Tides for use in the fourth Pirates movie, and they didn't use a line from the book.)


craniac said...

I would suggest Neal Stephenson. Great variety in his works.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I liked Cryptonomicon, and loved The Diamond age, but I'm stuck in the first book of the Quicksilver cycle.

Bert said...

Can you think of some examples of writers with wide range?

Several writers of old come to mind, actually. Asimov certainly fit the bill, without question.

Clifford Simak straddled the fantasy / S-F border happily throughout his entire career, refusing to adhere to any given genre. Just try comparing the classic City to the funny The Goblin Reservation, for example.

Fritz Leiber also used very different styles, the exuberant Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser adventure series being quite different from his more classic Gather, Darkness, etc.

Marion Zimmer-Bradley's works on Avalon are also sensibly different from the Darkover series (the former of a much better caliber, IMHO).

So I certainly wouldn't agree that all authors "are stuck in a rut". But it may be that the big edition machine tends to force them in such a pattern, I really wouldn't know. I have heard that writer workshops (Clarion is a famous example) have produced quite a few "write-by-numbers" authors who encountered success... Mind you, I'm not saying this is bad. I thoroughly enjoyed George Alec Effinger's Marîd Audran series, even though he is a pure product of Clarion's workshops, among others.

But I'll grant you that good authors have a "color", a distinctive mark left on their works. Asimov hated Campbell's (the first editor to publish his fiction works) notion that humans had to prevail, so he elected to never encounter aliens in his S-F works. Simak wrote about people and the American Midwest country life, even when the story was about about aliens. MZB is a bit of a crusader for the gay cause. And so on...

Philocalist said...

Wilbur Smith - has done some major epics spanning many books (and centuries!), but you never really know what the next book will be - the latest addition to one of the varied 'epic' tomes, which are mostly entirly different - a one-off, standalone novel - or new book to start off an entirely new thread.

Anonymous said...

Although Banks writes both science fiction and "mainstream" fiction he's limited within those. When you read his sci-fi you know what it's going to be - a lot of standard space opera stuff. I think you also know what to expect from his mainstream work - similar to a lot of other writers today.

Anonymous said...

Asimov certainly fit the bill, without question.

No he didn't. Asimov only wrote one kind of fiction well, and that was more to do with the ideas than the pulpy prose. He only really excelled at writing popular science.

Anonymous said...

No he didn't. Asimov only wrote one kind of fiction well, and that was more to do with the ideas than the pulpy prose. He only really excelled at writing popular science.

I can't agree with that. Asimov wrote great fiction and published books in every major category of the Dewey Decimal classification system. If that's not range, what is?

Anonymous said...

Iain Banks - I've only read his Culture science fiction novels but they are all standard space opera stuff, but well done within that.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Well, I think they are quite varied. Consideder Phebas is Action Space Opera, but some of them, like Excession (or maybe Inversions) has mainly non-humans for characters and take place in very strange environments. Some of the books have a lot of spaceship wars, some of them have pretty much none.