I saw Glen Cook at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention in Austin Texas, where he was a Guest of Honor. At the time, I simply couldn’t understand it. I’ve read Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF&F) all my life. At the time, I had been reading “Locus Magazine,” the monthly magazine that reviewed the SF&F literary market, for over ten years. Yet I had never heard of him. Glen Cook: Guest of Honor? He couldn’t be that important, could he?
As the World Fantasy Convention is geared toward published authors, few sat in on more than one panel discussion, and many didn’t even snag a seat. Yet because he was a Guest of Honor, Glen Cook sat in on several, giving attendees his opinion on the various topics being discussed. Often one of his fellow panelists would turn toward him and say, “You know, Glen, I’ve read some of your Black Company novels, and I really enjoyed them,” as if wishing to go on record that he, and that series, were significant. But when I saw Glen Cook at his table in the dealer’s room, the books arrayed before him sported not the dark, ominous artwork of the Black Company series, but lighthearted scenes featuring an overcoat-clad detective. How could he have written that many books in a series without my having heard about him? I wondered. When my wife bought Sweet Silver Blues, the first installment in what I came to learn was his Garrett P.I. series, I asked her why she had purchased it. After all, the organizers had given each of us a bag of books at registration, and we would have to pack them into our suitcases for the flight home.
“It just looked fun,” she told me.
As I’ve followed the SF&F literary market over the years, I’ve begun to realize that no reader can possibly stay on top of everything that’s out there. The publishers put out too many titles each month, and bookstores play it safe by buying multiple copies of the latest offering by top selling authors, and a smattering of anything else that seems different enough that it might become the next big thing. Even older, established authors find that bookstores carry no more than a small percentage of their available titles. Consequently, lots of authors go unnoticed, and book reviewers who promote authors who constantly attempt to challenge reader’s expectations through their fiction only perpetuate this trend. The longer I study the market, the more confounded I am by this approach. For most readers aren’t looking to have their expectations of Fiction challenged or overthrown each time they pick up a novel. They’ve worked hard all day, or spent too many hours studying. They want an escape from reality, not literature that will place additional demands on their already fatigued brains and bodies.
After my wife read Sweet Silver Blues, the first Garrett P.I. novel, I read it too. I wasn’t won over by it. The novel combines two normally separate genres, the High Fantasy novel, with its fantastical creatures, swordplay, and magic-wielding sorcerers and witches, with a Mystery novel featuring a stereotypical hardboiled detective. Cook’s minimal description of Garrett’s world prevented me from envisioning his Fantasy world. His characters, variations on traditional trolls, elves, and dwarves, prevented me from taking the overall mystery plot seriously. Yet as is sometimes the case, that isn’t the end of the story. Sometimes you discover a particular author before you’re ready for him, and sometimes the authors that prove important to you are different from those the reviewers say you should care about.
Tomorrow, I’ll tell you why you should care about Glen Cook’s novels. Or at least why I do…now.