Fri
Jan 10 2014 10:00am
Under the Radar: ML Brennan’s Generation V

M L Brennan Generation V

We’re a few weeks in to the Under the Radar series and I’m still struggling to figure some things out. The intent, ostensibly, is to call attention to novels that we believe are being under-recognized by some nebulous population of readers. Two of the authors I’ve pointed out—Teresa Frohock and Zachary Jernigan—are actually quite well reviewed and regarded by the blogging community. In fact, both have received more coverage on blogs than many authors who sell exorbitantly more copies. I chose them because of their sales numbers. Despite endless positive reviews for both titles, they weren’t able to penetrate the average readers’ awareness. What I bet the general public doesn’t understand is what I mean when I talk about “struggling sales.”

We all know Patrick Rothfuss sells a lot of books. Would it surprise you to know that some of the books I’ve talked about sold less than .01% of The Name of the Wind in the US? Because those are the kinds of differences in volume that we’re talking about. Taking it international and it’s probably more like .0001% because many of the books we talk about in this series don’t even have foreign rights deals. Take it up another notch to someone like Charlaine Harris and the numbers really boggle.

What about someone like Daniel Abraham? He’s a well-known name; one half of the New York Times bestselling James S.A. Corey, the man behind M.L.N. Hannover, author of the completed series The Long Price Quartet and the ongoing Dagger and Coin series, Abraham is one of the most prolific writers in the business. In seven years, he’s published sixteen novels, with three more coming in 2013. Not to mention a host of novellas and short stories scattered throughout various markets. Add up all his book sales and he may be approaching what Rothfuss has done for his first book. Maybe.

While the Dagger and Coin series is a success by any measure, it’s in no way selling as much as it ought to. Abraham is unquestionably the best epic fantasy writer in the middle of a series working today. His books come out every June like clockwork. And yet we’re talking about the kind of readership on that series that’s more like Battlestar Galactica than Buffy.

All of that goes to say that when we talk about something being “Under the Radar” in the science fiction and fantasy literary world, it’s a term we can apply to almost anyone outside of the ten to fifteen super powers. There are authors in the wild now who have sold five figures of a debut novel, but are struggling to get a good offer to continue the series. Publishing is an oligarchy. The mid list still exists, but it is a dwindling animal with no Endangered Species Act as a backstop. So, for the next four hundred words I’m going to pretend to be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a mid list author in the very beginning stages of her career.

ML Brennan Iron Night Generation VML Brennan, author of Generation V and its sequel, Iron Night, has been overlooked by two different sets of readers for entirely different reasons (this a bit of an assumption on my part). It’s an urban fantasy series, and makes no bones about it. But, the covers feature a regular guy, in jeans, leaning against a wall. It could as easily be a reissue of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders as a vampire novel. And the blurb has buzz words like, “out smart” and “pouring coffee.”

One of the most prevalent tropes in the urban fantasy sub genre is the kick-ass female, with her witty one liners and propensity for edged weapons. The successful male lead urban fantasies—like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden and Kevin Hearne’s Atticus O’Sullivan—are Mr. Awesomes, and are packaged as such. Generation V has none of that. In fact, the protagonist isn’t snarky or particularly good at, well, anything. This probably doesn’t sit all that well with the vast majority of urban fantasy consumers who are quite used to very capable leads (see fantasy, epic for same) and certain kinds of character arcs.

As someone who doesn’t get the warm fuzzies reading urban fantasy, I have long held the misguided and close-minded belief that I don’t like urban fantasy on the whole. Why, you might ask? I have considered it repetitive and trite and guilty of pandering to its readership (as is every sub genre, right?), mostly because 95% of urban fantasy books look like the same book. Their covers and blurbs can be almost unrecognizable from each other, leading to an assumption that it’s a cookie-cutter sub genre. In fact, I never would have read Generation V if the author hadn’t sent me a very personal and well-researched note, asking me to do so. With all my baggage then, why did I love Generation V so much? Because it doesn’t pander. It isn’t repetitive. And it isn’t trite. Maybe a little on the last count. It has to have some of the tropes or it wouldn’t be a genre novel.

Brennan’s protagonist, Fortitude Scott, is a broke college kid working as a barista who’s also a pre-pubescent vampire. He’s got a screwed up family and gets no respect from anyone in his personal life, including a girlfriend who cheats on him with impunity. He ends up investigating a series of murders when a vampire comes into his family’s territory and needs a snack. His mom calls in a favor to hook him up with a hot shape changing fox bodyguard. Then things get hairy.

Nothing about the book goes as you might expect. The narrator is non-standard. He isn’t powerful, funny, or even vampirish. He’s just a dude trying to do the right thing. His partner, the shape changer, is full of urban fantasy stereotypes. She’s tough, kicks ass, has snark coming out of her tail, and looks awesome in a pair of leather of pants. But, because she isn’t the narrator, the entire novel possesses a freshness that I can’t quite put my finger on. Not to mention Brennan has a wholly new, and very deep, take on the vampire mythology. In other words, although at first blush Generation V might turn off UF apologists and haters, it’s a novel that absolutely appeals to both. It is a perfect combination of new and old that comes along only very rarely.

Through Generation V, ML Brennan convinced me to take a look at my preconceptions. Because I was willing to leap into a space that made me uncomfortable, I’ve opened myself up to a whole new avenue of exploration. I’ve read several urban fantasies since Generation V. I’ve found some gems, and a few that reconfirm my past experiences. If the mid list author is going to survive the rough waters of modern publishing they will need more readers to do the same. Readers will need to take chances on something unfamiliar. There needs to be a revelation from epic fantasy readers that Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, and Joe Abercrombie are not all there is to life, much as Kelley Armstrong, Kim Harrison, and Jim Butcher fans need to do the same.

To that end, I challenge everyone who reads this to pick up a sub genre this month that they’ve cast aside. Take a leap, like I did. In the comments, I hope you’ll ask for recommendations and give them in kind. And if you’re going to recommend, do it with thought for who’s asking. If a Charlaine Harris fan is looking for epic fantasy, Brandon Sanderson may not be the right choice. But, Sam Sykes? He might be closer to the mark. If someone loves Joe Abercrombie, what about Rob Thurman? These are just a few suggestions to get the conversation started.

For me, I&rsquo9;m going to read a category romance novel. I hope you’ll follow my lead and give it a shot... erm... reading something new, not necessarily romance. Anyone have an suggestions for me?

 

Generation V and Iron Night are available from Roc.


Justin Landon runs Staffer’s Book Review, where his posts are less on-color. Find him on Twitter for meanderings on science fiction and fantasy, and to argue with him about whatever you just read.

14 comments
Paul Weimer
1. PrinceJvstin
In seven years, published sixteen novels, with three more coming in 2013. Not to mention a host of novellas and short stories scattered throughout various markets. Add up all his book sales and he may be approaching what Rothfuss has done for his first book. Maybe.

The graphs that Mark Lawrence did visually show this, but its still a mind boggling disparity of "Scales" of how many books are actually sold, and despoite his apparent visibility, Abraham really isn't a big fish at all. Which is a shame.
Robert H. Bedford
2. RobB
Great post, Justin. I may take this challenge in the next month or two. Most of the reactions I've seen to Generation V have been very good, even if it isn't super wide-spread.
Herb6245
3. Herb6245
I largely hold the same preconceptions about Justin and would never have read it if he hadn't given me a copy at LoneStarCon (and I lied about liking urban fantasy). Generation V is great. Iron Night is (so far) even better, as Fortitude has grown out of his more annoying character traits while keeping all his good ones. Justin is right that it's "fresh," but it also works because it's very, very good at everything that it does. 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration and all that.

Quintessence by David Walton and The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher were the two books I read this past year that stood out to me the most as not getting enough attention (I'm not sure how they sold; both got hardcover releases).
Justin Landon
4. jdiddyesquire
@RobB--Your challenge should be to read "Star Trek FanFic".

@Herb--Glad you liked the book! I thought Quintessence was decidedly OK and I couldn't get into Six-Gun Tarot. Neither was a big hit to my knowledge.
Robert H. Bedford
5. RobB
Actually, maybe I'll dip into a Trek novel. I've never read one.
Herb6245
6. Shecky
Thoroughly enjoyed Generation V, which is further helped by the fact that the author is a warm, funny, genuine and overall good person. It's a lovely thing when an artistically talented person is an anti-diva; it makes reading an already good book even better.
Herb6245
7. AO
"Abraham is unquestionably the best epic fantasy writer in the middle of a series working today".

I must disagree in the strongest possible terms with this opinion.
Herb6245
9. AO
Very well jdiddyesquire. I shall be ready.
Herb6245
10. AO
@5 RobB,

I'd never read a Trek novel, despite having seen all the series at least once, until a couple of years ago. I was pointed to The Destiny trilogy by David Mack and found it to be surprisingly entertaining and of a large scope, while incorporating characters from several of the shows, and yet still friendly to those who aren't up to date on the continuity in the books. It seems to be an oft recommended starting point and might be a good place to look to, if you are in need of a place to begin.
Robert H. Bedford
11. RobB
@10. AO
I'd seen good things about Mack's book elswhere, from both Trek and non-Trek fans afficianodos. Also considering something from Peter David (I like his comics and his other fiction) or maybe Christopher L. Bennett.
Shelly wb
12. shellywb
You're going to try a category romance? I don't read too many because most are very formulaic, but Jennifer Crusie had some really good ones. Anyone but You was my favorite of her categories.

Here's a list a group of about 50 friends came up of their favorite category romances. I've not read all, but the ones I've read are pretty good. You'd probably have to buy them used because the shelf life of a category romance is only a 1-2 months. But most of these authors are very popular so they may have been reprinted.

1. Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie
2. MacKenzie's Mountain by Linda Howard
3. Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie
4. Prince Joe by Suzanne Brockmann
5. Miss Emmaline and the Archangel by Rachel Lee
6. Heartbreaker by Linda Howard
7. Get Lucky by Suzanne Brockmann
8. The Keeper by Margot Early
9. The Family Way by Jayne Ann Krentz
10. Reckless by Ruth Wind
Herb6245
13. Michael J. Sullivan
A great article Justin, and I agree there is a big disparity and wide range between variuous authors. I think some would be shocked to learn how much certain people have made even though their names are "big" their salaries may not be. ;-(
Herb6245
14. Infospider
I didn't know Daniel Abraham was all those people and I am a huge fan of MLN Hanover and James S.A. Corey. If he had written all his books under one name, the name recognition would have been through the roof and his sales would have followed. Sometimes author pseudonyms work and sometimes they backfire: ex: Meg Cabot wrote the awesome teen Mediator series under a pen name and when she became more famous as Meg Cabot, she re-issued them under the Cabot name. thus the name recognition moved to one person making it easier for us already stressed readers to find them when they are all shelved together.

Get a clue, we're only sometimes smart enough to figure out you have many names. Make it easy for us to know what you write and we'll buy it and read it; make it harer and we all suffer.

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