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Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"Rites of Passage and Madison Avenue"
| Send books for review in this column to:
Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952
Star Trek: Vulcan's Heart by Josepha Sherman and Susan Swartz, Pocket Books July 1999
Rift by Kay Kenyon, Bantam Spectra 1999
Star Trek The Next Generation, Triangle: Imzadi II by Peter David with Chapter Three of a novel serialized at the end of ST novels in 12 parts.
The Star Trek Sticker Book, by Michael Okuda, Denise Okuda, and Doug Drexler, Pocket Books September 1999
The Star Trek Encyclopedia, a Reference Guide to the Future by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda, Pocket Books October
Over the last few years, I have often spoken of the trends in publishing, of the "novel" as a sentence in a conversation among writers that you, the reader, are listening to. And I've attempted to interpret that conversation, and initiate you as a participant in it.
As we enter the new century, the very definition of "trend" is in severe flux. The definition of "conversation" is morphing before our eyes. The concept of "publish" no longer has a specific meaning. The definition of story may be about to change in startling and unpredictable ways.
And all of that change has to do with "Laws, Rules, and Order" vs. Identity. We've discussed the magickal definition of Identity at some length in this column, and if you've read any significant percentage of the novels discussed under that topic, you probably have developed a good grasp of the concepts underlying "Individuality."
Maturation can be regarded as the process of resolving the inherent conflict between Self (First House) and Other (7th House) within the pattern of your life (natal astrological chart.) Initiation can be regarded as a single experience which shatters prior attitudes, leaving you free to crystallize new ones. "Growing up" consists of a long series (29 years worth) of Initiations called "Rites of Passage."
The science fiction and fantasy genres focus their themes on the lessons of these early life Rites of Passage (though there are lots more in middle and elder years).
Rites of Passage have long been a study of the anthropologist, but have you ever suspected that "Madison Avenue" is way ahead of academe in the practical application of the magical power of Initiation?
The young (under 30 - pre-Saturn Return) thirst mightily for that imprimatur of adulthood, the final rite of passage that empowers, that changes everything, including one's identity and self-image. That thirst is the primary weapon of the advertising industry. Billions are spent on advertising every year, and most of it is aimed at the young adult.
Why are the young a target? Any statistics-savvy advertising executive will tell you that the older you get, the less likely you are to change your habits as a result of a "message" from a sponsor. Mature consumers have the much-coveted trait of "brand-loyalty" which has to be "won" in mortal-combat (like the game) against "competitors" when the victim is "young."
The other reason the young are a primary target of the advertising dollar is that they have the most discretionary or disposable income. Older people have mortgages, children, school loans, piles of credit card debt, and maybe ten dollars a week to spend on themselves -- maybe not.
A third force driving advertising to target the most vulnerable is that they are usually in the majority. We still live in a world of growing population, which is caused by each generation having more children (who survive) than the last, and then living longer than the last.
The next decade will see advertising statisticians targeting a population with a "dumb-bell" shape, a lot of older people impervious to "messages" and an even larger number of under-30's with high incomes (from the computer industry.)
Publishing is one of the less lucrative businesses struggling to survive in this changing century.
But what have these facts to do with the occult content of sf/f novels reviewed in this column?
The book publishing industry runs on advertising. Thousands of titles are published each year, and thousands go unnoticed for lack of advertising. A few are chosen to be advertised -- a choice made by advertising professionals who carefully avoid reading the novels they must choose from.
At a bookstore, even amazon.com, you may choose only from books you've heard of, and whether you hear of them depends on whether they've been advertised well enough that copies are stocked in bookstores or presented to you in your "recommended" folder on amazon.com . Yes, even on amazon.com publishers pay to get their books pushed at you. Amazon.com pushes only titles that "move fast" and it pitches those select titles at its associates to be pushed at you on other websites. It's all "marketing as usual" so far on the web.
Only well advertised books are found on bookstore shelves. They aren't all advertised to you, the reader. They are advertised to the distributors who decide which books to offer the bookstore chains. The bookstore chain buyers decide which books to take from the distributors based on what a salesman from the distributor says about the book in about 20 seconds of "pitch."
Of all the titles published, few ever reach the shelves. Very few.
But it's even worse than that.
Before that winnowing process I've described starts, the "editor" chooses one title from perhaps 50 passed through from a slush-pile reader based on the editor's guess (if they're wrong they lose their jobs) about how many copies that title will sell. The advertising budget for that chosen title is set by the editor's idea of how many copies they can sell.
So from a thousand titles written lovingly and adoringly by talented and untalented writers, by trained and untrained writers, by good, bad and indifferent writers, by ax-grinding writers and just-for-fun writers -- of a thousand titles one will be presented before your eyes for you to choose from. Maybe two or three others from that thousand will be there in the bookstore computers for you to special order if you know about them from another source.
That's how it's been in publishing since the early 1800's. But that's not how it will be in the next decade -- in fact, that's not how it's been for the last 5 years or so.
We'll investigate this trend I see in the March column, but meanwhile, I'd like you to read and ponder the following eminently readable novels that made it through that advertising-driven, Madison Avenue dominated marketplace, novels chosen for distinction by layer upon layer of people who didn't read them, and wouldn't like them if they had read them. I liked them.
Star Trek: Vulcan's Heart by Josepha Sherman and Susan Swartz -- fair disclosure, I know both authors personally. Vulcan's Heart is about Spock dealing with unfinished business with the Romulan Commander from the ST:TOS episode, "The Enterprise Incident" . "Now" in the year 2329, she calls upon Spock for help with an explosive political situation involving the Romulan Emperor.
Spock sidesteps regular diplomatic channels, takes matters into his own hands, and goes to Romulus.
This is the required Action/Adventure formula that focuses this novel to be marketed to the "young" seeking this rite of passage -- "acting without permission on one's own judgement." The rest of the novel is absolutely wonderful!
Rift by Kay Kenyon, Bantam Spectra 1999. I found this book on amazon.com and emailed the author. This one is about a young man who sees proof of corruption among the adults in charge of making decisions that will affect everyone, and the heroic action he takes against the establishment. Other than that, it's a great, fast-paced read with all that I could ask of an sf novel. I'm glad I discovered Kenyon and hope to see many more good books from her.
Star Trek The Next Generation, Triangle: Imzadi II by Peter David with Chapter Three of a novel serialized at the end of 12 other ST novels you have to hunt for.
New advertising concept, serializing one novel bound with many other novels you want to sell. This novel doesn't need that help. I highly recommend all Peter David titles, especially the Imzadi series, and I expect this serialization is in here to boost the sales of other novels because the Peter David Trek novels are hot sellers.
Think about that new advertising ploy, and find the new Star Trek Encyclopedia and the Sticker Book in some bookstore and examine them closely. Note the age-level they're aimed at. Note the way they bespeak what the advertising company thinks Star Trek fans like about Star Trek. Contrast and compare this set of books, and we'll talk about Buffy: The Vampire Slayer next time.
Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952
Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg,
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Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg