Thursday, December 20, 2012
Walk on the Wild Side
I recently caught the tail end—yes, pun intended—of Born Free on Turner Classic Movies. As I watched the Adamsons struggle to teach Elsa the lioness how to catch game in the wild, I couldn’t help comparing her to the neighbors’ cat, which slipped out the door and went feral in a matter of weeks without any help from anybody. On the one hand, you’ve got a lion that’s only one generation off the veldt and can’t feed itself without help. On the other, here’s a house cat, the product of centuries of domestication, that goes wild at the drop of a hat, or the opening of a front door. He’s a little skinnier than he used to be, but he’s been on his own for close to two years now and seems to be doing okay.
So what’s the deal? Kittycat DNA trumps lion instincts when it comes to catching food?
Granted, feral cats have a size advantage. They don’t have to hunt antelope, warthogs, zebras, water buffalo, or other big stuff that can fight back in order to fill up their bellies. They can make do with rabbits, birds, field mice and squirrels. Also, they have alternatives, like garbage cans and those soft-hearted schmucks who put out bowls of food for the “poor hungry kitty.” (I’d do this myself, but I’d rather not encourage the skunks, opossums, or other rabies-prone locals to make themselves at home on my deck.) A cat can get by on donations while it perfects its hunting skills. For lions, it’s learn on the fly, or starve in a week. And field mice don’t have horns and hooves.
I’m also inclined to think house cats are smarter than lions. They have to be, since so much of the world they live in is so much bigger and deadlier than they are. What do lions have to worry about, other than Tarzan and Ernest Hemingway? The lion will lie there and size up the guy with the rifle. The cat will take off automatically. Later on it’ll wander back and duck in between the buzzards to get its share of the carcass.
As we all know, Elsa eventually caught on that those fourleggers out there in the grass tasted damn good once you caught them. I’m assuming Kitty figured out the same thing in between scrounging for handouts. I know I haven’t seen as many squirrels or rabbits around the neighborhood lately.
Three’s a Crowd
There should be a deep, dark circle of Hell reserved for that publishing exec who looked at Tolkien’s massive manuscript and decided Lord of the Rings should be three separate books instead of the one humongous volume Tolkien meant it to be. Ever since then, we the reading public have been inundated with trilogies.
Having just finished all three volumes of The Hunger Games, I’ve decided some books shouldn’t have sequels or, if a sequel is demanded, for God’s sake make an effort to maintain quality. The dropoff between Hunger Games and Catching Fire was noticeable, and Mockingjay was just plain tedious, not to mention depressing. It makes me wonder how the series was conceived. Did Suzanne Collins plan to write an epic in three volumes? Or did she just write a damn good first book, then get pressured by her publisher to continue the story when sales took off?
I forgot to look at copyright dates, so I don’t know how quickly Book 2 followed Book 1. On the first book you can take your time. Subsequent volumes get rushed out to ride the crest of the sales wave. And what if you’ve said all you wanted to say in the first book? How do you write a sequel, let alone two, after the story’s told?
I wonder if that’s what happened to Frank Herbert. Dune is a one-volume epic, a classic of SF. The follow-up, Dune Messiah, reads like first-time fanfic. I don't know if it was the publisher or Herbert himself who wanted to cash in on Dune’s success. Maybe a combination of both, since your average SF writer doesn’t make a ton of money. It didn’t stop them from coming out with Children of Dune, since (thanks to Tolkien’s nameless publisher buddy) there have to be three books in all. That one wasn’t too bad. I should reread it to check.
I don’t know who to blame for trilogymania, the publishers or the writers. If I wrote a book that went gangbusters, I’d probably rush out a follow-up too. That’s not always a problem with me, due to my inherent sequelitis. But what if the book was meant as a standalone, and would only be weakened by continuations? Margaret Mitchell never wrote another book after Gone with the Wind. She sure as hell didn’t write the sequel. That was the publisher’s idea. These days we’d probably have the Tara Trilogy confronting us on the bookstore shelves.
It isn’t just books. It’s my understanding The Hobbit movie, already three hours long, is only Part 1 of a trilogy. Are you kidding me? Three hours of running time and I don’t even get to see the dragon until the third movie comes out? There’s no good reason The Hobbit couldn’t have been a single movie, other than the studio wanting to rake in more money. Overkill, guys, overkill. Give us a break already.
I’m going to stick with my plan of writing interconnected standalones rather than actual trilogies. Read one, read three, read a dozen, read ‘em out of order, who cares? It worked for the Darkover series, it can work for me. Assuming I don’t have a book whose sales go nuclear and I start getting pressured by publishers and readers for more of the same, only different. Yeah, we should all have such problems. Be interesting to see what the new year brings. Happy writing!