Thursday, November 5, 2015

Book Recommendation: Monster Hunters International

No film today. Instead, I’m going to recommend a book that you will enjoy a lot, and I’m going to crap on another one. Both are by conservatives and I think there is a valuable lesson in comparing the two.

The book I’m going to recommend is called Monster Hunters International and you can get it FREE ==> HERE. The book I’m going to crap on is called Freehold and you can get it FREE ==> HERE. Consider this...

MHI is written by Larry Correia, who is some sort of conservative. He’s probably libertarian more than conservative, but I’m not sure. The book starts with the premise that all the mythical monsters we know, e.g. vampires and werewolves, are real and are a genuine menace. To eliminate the menace, the Federal government has a secret agency whose job it is to hunt these creatures – it’s illegal to tell the public about the existence of these creatures and people who do tell the truth are made to disappear.

The story isn’t about the Feds, however. Instead, it’s about a group of private bounty hunters who hunter monsters for something called PUFF bounties. This is a program set up long ago in the past which continues today because powerful political allies keep the Feds from shutting it down. Monster Hunters International is one such group of bounty hunters, and the main character finds himself recruited to the group after he fights off a werewolf with his bare hands.

What works so well in this book is Correia’s style and his originality. The writing is funny and easy to read, yet Correia doesn’t sacrifice description or storytelling to dumb the book down. The monsters are interesting too. Indeed, he twists them all a bit to make them unusual, and the main monster is an original creation with a fascinating history. He even pokes Tolkien rather playfully. (You’re going to love Skippy.)

Now, the book has a few flaws, but not enough to ruin the book. For example, I find the main female character to be pure cardboard. There are a couple of “coincidences” in the ending that weakened the story too. But all in all, I enjoyed the book very much.

So let me touch upon the politics. Correia is obviously a conservative and he’s certainly overt in his conservatism, and he’s clearly a gun nut. But it never bothered me. To the contrary, it felt entirely natural that these private-sector monster hunters would be anti-authority/free market types who despise the Feds, and it never felt like he was preaching or lecturing. To the contrary, it just came across as natural whenever the issue arose in the book.

That brings me to the comparison.

After finishing this, I went looking for other conservative authors. I came upon someone named Michael Williamson, who wrote a book called Freehold. This is the classic example of being blinded by ideology. Williamson is clearly a libertarian, though he seems to be the type who confuses libertinism with libertarianism. Freehold is the story of an Earth woman who works for the UN Peace Force, which controls the world, and she flees after being wrongly accused of stealing military equipment. She flees to the only planet in the galaxy that is run on the principle of individual freedom and small (non-existent) government.

The problems with this story mount from page one. For one thing, good writers know to introduce your characters in ways that make them memorable. This book doesn’t do that. Instead, the book begins with the main character fleeing Earth, traveling to the new planet, and then getting settled all in massive administrative detail. There is no action here, just page after page of the main character walking around as the author describes how horrible the regulated world is and how great the unregulated world is. What’s more, the main character acts as little more than a straw-man character who asks question so that others can lecture her on how great their unregulated world is. This makes for a truly dull read as it feels like you are being lectured rather than being told a story.

Finally, as an ironic aside, even if I accepted the ideological arguments Williamson makes, and I definitely do not – he basically makes the mistake of arguing that a libertine/anarchical world would cure all problems and make all people good – I still found myself cringing at the idea of living in his “perfect” world. When Correia railed against the government, I accepted what he said and I saw the wisdom in it because he was pointing out how government interference prevented better people from doing what needed to be done in the right way. When Williamson does it, it sounds like a childish fantasy cure-all.

The lesson here is again that injecting politics is fine, but the story must always come first and the politics must fit naturally within the story and the characters. The purpose of the story can’t be the politics and the politics can’t be so overwhelming that the audience feels like they are being lectured. And seriously, if you’re going to inject your politics, make sure it sounds like a good thing to your readers.

Thoughts?

15 comments:

ScottDS said...

The first book sound like fun, the second one sounds like exactly what you say it is. In particular, I was immediately thrown by this: ...the story of an Earth woman who works for the UN Peace Force, which controls the world...

My first thought was, "Really?" It comes across as an dishonest premise informed solely by politics.

I recently read Ernest Cline's nerd-tastic Ready Player One. I'm sure there are elements inherent in that book's premise that you'd disagree with: namely that the Earth is over-polluted and over-populated so everyone seeks refuge inside this virtual world known as the OASIS. But it's just a means to an end - the book isn't ABOUT over-population and pollution.

The story is basically The Matrix meets Willy Wonka replete with a litany of 80s references. I enjoyed it very much! There were passages where I couldn't believe someone who wasn't me wrote them!

Anthony said...

Correia is indeed the better writer from a technical standpoint. He is also more prolific than Williamson. Williamson is the better world-builder and researcher when it comes to science fiction and may be the better writer for world-building in general.

Williamson's Freehold was designed to be a plodding, world-building mega-novel because libertarian science fiction was in a rut and needed a kick in the pants. It's specifically engineered to appeal to a specific audience, and it does that very well. Freehold is many's favorite book. It is vivid and engrossing.

Williamson has admitted that at the time Better to Beg Forgiveness, a later novel, was his quiet best seller and Better to Beg Forgiveness from a technical standpoint, is the better novel than Freehold. If you look at the Amazon reviews, Freehold still has many more reviews than Better to Beg Forgiveness. Freehold, even with it's technical problems, obvious presses a lot of buttons.

So I believe you're arguing against the design of the book, which is valid, but it is the design of the book. In that regard, his sci-fi universe works very well. I could make a good argument that it actually rebooted libertarian sci-fi, or at least put a modern spin on it.

As a sci-fi novelist I try to borrow from Correia's "action is character" technique and Williamson's world-building immersion. Someday I actually might succeed.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, What I would say to Williamson, if I were to be the first to edit his novel, is that he needs to spread his world out into the story. Right now, it comes in a clump, almost like you're reading a massive encyclopedia description of his world and his belief system. The best books, like Tolkien as an obvious example, spread out the details as the story goes along so that you take them in a little at a time and a whole world slowly builds around the characters which immerses you. By the time the story is over, you get the same amount of information, but the feel is much more pleasant when it comes little by little. What Williamson does kept making me want to stop reading or skip over large sections in the hopes of finding something plot related.

I would also argue that it's always a mistake to use the straw man type character. In fact, the most mocked line in Star Trek TNG was from Wesley Crusher: "Why would anyone want to use drugs?" And it wasn't that the question was stupid, it was that it screamed of being a set up for a lecture. Williamson's book uses this model over and over with heroine: "How do you know you're getting good products if you don't require licenses?" And each time it feels like "WARNING: LECTURING COMING IN". To me, it's always better to bring these things out more naturally and in much smaller chunks (and if you can work it, with a sense of humor).

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I'll have to look that up. I've been looking for good science fiction and just haven't found much. Most is ultra-derivative crap, especially from the main publishing houses.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, As an aside, on Amazon reviews. It's amazing to me how they work and how misleading they are. There are great books with tons of sales that never get reviewed and lousy books with almost no sales but tons of reviews. I've also noticed, rather unfairly, that good books get graded much more harshly than lousy books. I keep thinking there must be a better system than this!

Anthony said...

Oh I agree with your points, Andrew. Freehold needed another editorial pass and Kendra needed a motivation other than survival. All of which people who really really (really) wanted to read a book like Freehold overlook. Kendra worked because for many readers they became Kendra.

Personally, I would have loved if the main character was Rob.

I don''t now if you've been following sci-fi books but for last 15 years with only a few exceptions it's been bad. 20 to 30 years ago you could find all sorts of sub-genres in science fiction. Now people turn to indie authors and get their fix, and it seems Baen (the publisher) is the only large imprint to figure it out. Both of the novels you contrasted are Baen books. I think they kick Tor's ass, but I digress.

Great discussion!

Anthony said...

RE: Amazon Reviews

Amazon reviews work for me. It's obvious when someone takes a critical look, there is a verified purchaser tag and I've bought books that have been slammed by obvious social justice warriors in reviews because their reaction was so strong, I new the book had to be good. Ha!

But, reviews are kind of a secondary consideration to most people, I think. I buy books not by browsing, but by going to a specific book I've heard by word of mouth. Then, if I am curious, I click over to other books recommended to me by Amazon. That is when I look at reviews.

Personally, I would like a system where I can sort the verified purchases to show up first.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I'm glad you're enjoying the discussion. So am I! :)

I agree that Rob is the more interesting character. I think that following him would have made for a better story, especially if you add in the idea that maybe Kendra has some secret or isn't what she appears to be and Rob needs to solve the riddle. I think that would have introduced the little extra conflict the story needed to keep it more interesting as Williamson laid out his view of the world.

I also agree that the people who were going to like the book happily overlooked this because they fell in love with his world, and how different it is from what the industry has been offering.

In terms of science fiction, I have watched it over the years and you are absolutely right. So much of what has been written over the past twenty years is just pure garbage. And I think the problem has been leftism, to tell the truth. All the science fiction I've found has been the same lousy leftist stuff just repeated over and over. It's paranoid, boring and derivative. They never explore human nature, and when they do it's all about class warfare and how evil and racist/sexist the powers that be are. The days of a Rod Serling telling morality tales are long, long gone, as are the kind of mind blowing (even if very poorly written) concept stories like those written by Philip Dick. Heck, even good leftist criticism like the 1960's dystopian stuff has been missing for so long. Instead, it's all been brave young minority being chased by evil corporate empire or derivative zombie novels.

That's why I was thrilled when Kit pointed me to Larry Correia and I actually found a story I truly enjoyed! Since then, I've started sifting through the "sad puppies" authors because they seem to be doing fairly decent work and I am finding good stuff there.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, The problem I've seen with Amazon reviews is that there is no real control. So you get some authors who secretly review their own work or shoot down the work of their competitors. You have people buying reviews. I've seen a gang of agents who crap on all independent books. You see political trolls who flood books written by the other side without even reading them. You see trolls who just slam everything. And then in the middle of this you get some genuine reviews.

Unfortunately, each review can affect sales because most of the public can't tell what is genuine and what isn't.

As an aside, I remember one author who magically got a 5-star review within hours of every negative review and the new 5-star review would always say the exact opposite of what the negative review said. That was so obvious that I got the sense people would see through it, but most fakers are more clever. It's a mess.

shawn said...

The Monster Hunter books are quite entertaining and get better as you progress in the series. Even better is his "Grimnoir Trilogy" which is sort of an alternate 1930s X-Men, with zepplins and mystical super powered ninjas.

Kit said...

Shawn,

I'm on the Grimnoir books, Spellbound, and it is good.

It also manages to do a better job handling the "X-Men" idea of super-powered human beings better and with far more nuance than X-Men does.

Voz said...

I only went for the MHI book...and I'm 3/4 done with it already...it's really good...it would make a good movie series.

AndrewPrice said...

Voz, I'm glad you like it! I really enjoyed it and I was happy that Kit had introduced me to it.

Firefly said...

I added MHI to my Kindle based on your recommendation. Thank you for the suggestion. I also happened to download the first book in Mr. Corrieia's latest series (Saga of The Forgotten Warrior). Thank you for the introduction to an interesting story teller.

AndrewPrice said...

You're welcome. I'm always happy to introduce people to things they like! :)

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