Bad Writing: Amazon bestsellers edition

The original goal of this post was to write a mini-essay on something that annoys me about contemporary writing. As far as I know, it has no name, and I struggled to find one, so I had to settle for something as cumbersome as “mid-action or mid-description beginnings.” Essentially, the story starts in media res, but not in the middle of the plot, but in the middle of a scene, with people (sometimes a lot of people) doing, sometimes exciting or action-related, stuff… for no reason we can discern. No goals, context, purpose, or meaning are given. It’s just a picture, like a movie scene (and in many cases, it shows the writer imagined it as such.)

The protagonist can be fighting another person (and we know nothing about them so we have no reason to care,) sweating profusely from some equally strenuous activity, engaging in a heavy dialogue with a character we know nothing about, or sometimes it’s a cliché-ridden description as the character prepares to do one of those things (the standard in fantasy until a few years ago was to describe, for some unfathomable reason, the sky – usually a sunset or dawn- and how that light reflected on the local vegetation.)

The opposite, of course, is to start like all stories have always been written, with a small, perhaps only a single sentence, explanation about the why, where, and when so we can contextualize what is happening and will happen.

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“Where does coffee come from?” Asks multinational coffee megacorporation. “Dunno,” it says and shrugs.

There is a type of news or news article that reflect the current zeitgeist so well that they deserve their own analysis.

Coffee industry discusses need to improve diversity, inclusion – The Seattle Times 18.04.2018

Coffee farmers, buyers, roasters, retailers and baristas from around the world are gathering in Seattle this week to show off their wares, compete in the U.S. Coffee Championships and do business.

And nothing goes better with coffee than conversation.

 At an industry symposium on the sidelines of the Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle, talk focused on challenges ranging from climate change and consolidation to the industry’s struggles with equity, diversity and inclusion up and down the supply chain.
[blablabla]
Other speakers pointed to an economic reason to welcome more under-represented minority groups into the coffee business, particularly as the industry looks for its next wave of growth. In the U.S., young, ethnic minorities represent a huge and growing market of would-be specialty coffee drinkers, but they may not see themselves reflected in the industry, said Phyllis Johnson, president of BD Imports.
How should the industry increase coffee consumption among African Americans and other minority groups, Johnson asked. Her answer: “Hire them.”
This article links to an older article: “After arrests, Starbucks is talking race.”
I know most of you reading this are American, so bear with me when I say this is the most American thing I have read in a long time. It combines self-centeredness and lack of geographical knowledge, peak wealthy liberalism, and peak corporativism, all mixed together in an unholy brew of moral superiority and ignorance.

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DISUM 19-04-2018

 

  1. You definitely have a problem, Houston.

Ex-Houston 911 operator guilty of hanging up thousands of callers – CBS News 19.04.2018

A former 911 operator in Houston has been found guilty of hanging up on people calling for emergency services. Jurors on Wednesday found 44-year-old Crenshanda Williams guilty of interference with emergency telephone calls, a misdemeanor.

She was sentenced to 10 days in jail and 18 months of probation.

Prosecutors from the Harris County district attorney’s office say she worked as a 911 operator for a year and a half, ending in 2016. Records showed that thousands of calls lasting less than 20 seconds were attributed to her hanging up. She was fired after a supervisor noticed the unusual number of “short calls,”

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Reading the Hugos (2018) Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™

I’ll use this story as an example of the dilemma any prospective writer who aspires to a reputation among the Noble People will encounter. You can write a good story, one that will stand on its own merits, capable of being read by people from all around the world, but at the cost of (probably) being ignored, or you can add a layer of fashionable dogma that will impoverish your story, restrict its appeal, and reduce its longevity, but with the possible reward of social approval or a nomination.

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Reading the Hugos (2018) Sun, Moon, Dust

Ursula Vernon has been nominated a few times for the Hugos, and I have read some of her stories (Jackalope’s Wife and The Tomato Thief.) I didn’t dislike or like them. I know I’m not their audience but, unlike what happens when I read other Hugo finalists, I didn’t get the feeling someone was trying to insult me. They had a personal touch and a bit of humor here and there, plus some of the elements that any Hugo finalists needs, but aside from that, I found them generally unexciting. Tepid.

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Reading the Hugos (2018) Fandom for Robots

Fandom for Robots, by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, is a 3530-word short story. It’s about fan fiction and fandoms, but I’m not sure it’s trully about robots. Some things happen, the robot-protagonist watches anime, fan fictions is described and ¿satirized? and the story ends with the (human) protagonist becoming Internet-popular.

These preceding sentences stood alone, in the draft version of this post, for a few days before I managed to write the rest (800 words,) which I have just deleted. Reading this short story was like a sort of reverse writer’s block, for although I had thousands of things to say about it, there’s was no point in doing so. This short story is harmless, annoyingly so. Even if you shaped it like a knife and tried to stab someone in the eyes with it, not even the UK government would consider it a dangerous weapon. Continue reading “Reading the Hugos (2018) Fandom for Robots”

Reading the Hugos (2018) The Martian Obelisk

Someone must have let his guard down because this story, The Martian Obelisk, by Linda Nagata, is an actual science fiction story, with bits of astronomy, space travel, technology, and all that jazz. Yes, unbelievable isn’t it? A Hugo story which is an actual science fiction story?! You could give this story to a random person whose only understanding of sci-fi is “stuff with rockets and futuristic gadgets” and he would concur with you: yes, this is, indeed, a science fiction story. Unfortunately, it overextends, misses the mark, and fails at it.

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