bblhd672 wrote:It is not a literary masterpiece - it is however a chilling warning about a real threat. Forstchen wrote the book to warn the people about the seriousness of this threat.
I find your assessment amusing that because the author lacks a Master of Fine Arts degree that he is unqualified to write a best seller.
I was writing a couple of Amazon reviews, this (a longer version) among them. And you're absolutely correct that the book was written as a warning, and Forstchen likely wouldn't have found an audience for it with a work of nonfiction.
But it is
a novel. And as a novel, it's about as deft as an Acme brick.
I never said he was unqualified to write a best seller. Anyone whose book sells enough to qualify for that title has earned it. But if you're marketing a work to me as a short story, novelette, novella, or novel, I'm going to hold you to my standards for fiction. And I feel my standards are unashamedly high.
Without knowing my opinion of other novels, in retrospect I now see that it looks like I simply decided to single out and bash Forstchen. Not so. I bash 24 of 25 novels that I read.
For example, I found some of the writing in the first David Baldacci (the popular author of 38 best-selling books) novel I read to be so atrocious--honestly, I would expect better from a high school student--that I closed the book and have not read a word of Baldacci's since.
Dr. Forstchen has written about 40 books, some nonfiction (which I probably would read) and many fiction, some even science fiction including one in the Star Trek: The Next Generation
universe. In fact, I think his first novel was a fantasy piece for Magic: The Gathering
. However, if One Second After
is an example, he simply isn't a good novelist.
In this day and age, it's actually quite difficult to stumble upon a good novelist. Twenty years ago I owned a small book publishing business. We produced trade paperbacks, that's the large format kind, typically 6"x9", with full-color, heavy-stock covers and acid-free archival paper. I had two editors helping me and we read--admittedly often skimmed--a humongous number of submitted manuscripts. We received 20 to 40 unsolicited novel manuscripts per month, and that count doubled when, in one of their annual issues, Writer's Digest Magazine
featured us as one of the top 20 author-friendly houses.
Books we accepted for publication were carefully edited (I can proudly say that there was never a typo, grammatical or syntax error, or word omission or duplication discovered in any book we printed) and digitally typeset with the reader in mind: type one point larger than was typical, generous leading (the space between lines), and ample margins. Our books were distributed by the largest wholesalers, including Ingram Group and Baker & Taylor. But after years of trying, we couldn't get any large brick-and-mortar store to carry any of our titles, even the ones reviewed favorably by Publishers Weekly
, and Library Journal
. Amazon did carry all the titles, so we had to focus our marketing--other than what the wholesalers did for us--on online sales. And if anyone wants a bookmark or sample marketing postcard from those days, let me know; I still have about a thousand of them, can't bring myself to throw them away.
And, yes, brick-and-mortar stores were critical to success back then. Today, the once-despised notion of "self-publishing" is called "indie publishing" and all those unsolicited and unacceptable manuscripts we once received, well now they're all books--being produced at 20 times the rate--and as many titles are being sold for e-readers as in hard copy. Anyone with tenacity and a keyboard, serviceable grasp of the English language not required, can produce a book and sell it on Amazon.
Worse, much worse, is that the development has changed the way the big publishing houses operate. For those of you old enough, can you recall a hardcover book published prior to, say, 1980 that had typos in it? I'll wager you can't. At that time publishing a book was a big deal that required time and good deal of money up-front before the title was ever released. In fact, after the book was acquired and edited, there would typically be a five- to nine-month lead period where the book, in galley form, would be marketed to distributors and retailers, and copies sent to reviewers to garner marketable opinions. The only way to publish a book then was to typeset it for offset printing. It was terribly inefficient from a cost standpoint to do short-runs, printing only hundreds of books at a time. Print runs were always in the thousands, often in the tens of thousands.
But in the course of just over 40 years, the business model of book publishing--essentially consistent for hundreds of years--changed forever. So has some of the quality we came to expect. A snapshot of book publishing history 101:
- In the 1980s, big-box retailers, Notably, Barnes & Noble and Borders, sprang up and created large "destination" stores that stocked inventories 10 to 20 times greater than most, even large, independent booksellers. But the affect on publishing was quieter and more insidious. The big retailers carried huge monetary clout and developed IT systems that provided theretofore unheard of insight into consumer purchasing patterns. The cumulative result was that these large retailers began to dictate to the publishers the type of books they wanted to sell. The publishers began to lose a great deal of their editorial control.
- The second major change happened in the latter 1990s when internet commerce became fully entrenched as a powerful consumer alternative to shopping in a physical bookstore. This shift in consumer control and preference for online retailers continued and accelerated, leading to the eventual demise of not only most remaining independent booksellers, but also many of big-box bookstores.
- The third shift occurred around 1998 or 1999, as digital printing of books enabled micro-runs fueling small press houses and the self-publishing industry. Self-publishing started to pivot control over the value chain back to the authors, often bypassing and cutting out publishers altogether.
- The fourth transformation was the introduction and popularization of dedicated e-book reading devices. E-books cut out the pass-through costs of paper publication and, more significantly, the costs of actual publication, distribution, and maintaining inventory. This further moved control over the value chain away from the publishers and into the hands of those who controlled the electronic storefronts.
- The fifth development began about five to seven years ago and continues now. Book manufacturers are faced with declining run lengths per book and high setup costs, and cycle times from order to delivery are, by market force, compressing to a degree undreamed of just 30 years ago. The only way for traditional book manufacturers to survive is to become more efficient, to digitize and automate more and more of their processes. Printing books by offset--essentially the only game in town until the 90s--has all but disappeared. By 2025 I doubt we'll see any business that looks like a traditional publisher and book manufacturer.
The relevant point here is that with each disruption to the business of books came a change to the way editorial content was viewed and handled. With each disruption came a compression of the editorial timeframes and pressure to reduce costs.
Gone are the days that Hemingway and Fitzgerald collaborated with editor emeritus Maxwell Perkins to produce literary works where every paragraph, every sentence, every word had been scrutinized, considered, and polished before it met the hands of the reader. To have a novel published in hardback for wide distribution prior to 1980 was a very big deal. It cost a lot to do so, and time was taken to edit the book properly and make certain it was as good as it could be.
Now, when we download an e-book from Amazon to our Kindles, we start reading with the full expectation that the book will not be well edited. If we're very lucky, it will have been edited at all...beyond hoping that the author himself or herself actually read through the final work with an eye for errors. We're so used to this status quo now that we don't even blink when we encounter a typo or minor error in grammar or syntax even in a book produced by a major house.One Second After
is an example. The book was published by MacMillan in 2009, reached the 11th position on the New York Times Best Seller
list for fiction 45 days later, and a trade paperback edition was produced eight months after the hardcover publication. But, yep, the book contains typos. Not many and not egregious, mind you, but they're there and we're simply now conditioned to read over them and keep going.
I think I'll go back and edit my first post to make it clear that I was offering a quick opinion of One Second After
as a novel, as a literary work of fiction. It may well be--in fact probably is--an important book. It's well-researched subject matter is chilling, eye-opening. On that basis I'm glad I read it.
But as a novel, it is not well written and does not display fine craft in the art.